Local Jewish Federations to commemorate Yom HaShoah

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Emily Goodman
Emily Goodman (Rip Goodman Photography)

One of the more upsetting aspects of the 1942 Wannsee Conference, at which Nazi Germany settled on its Final Solution for Europe’s Jews, was how educated and otherwise highly regarded men could so willingly engineer what became the Shoah, said Emily Goodman, the director of Holocaust and countering antisemitism programming at the Baltimore Jewish Council.

This year, BJC, in partnership with The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, is planning a Yom HaShoah commemoration that will focus on the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference. It is one of several commemorations in the community planned for Yom HaShoah, which is on April 28.

The BJC commemoration will be an online program premiering May 1 at 2 p.m.

“Every year, the BJC, in partnership with The Associated, plans its community-wide commemoration for Yom HaShoah,” said Goodman, a resident of Lutherville-Timonium who often attends Beth Israel Congregation for High Holiday services. “And every year, we pick a different topic or a different theme, based on anniversaries or just whatever we’re interested in pursuing that year.”

Before the pandemic, the commemoration would normally be a larger scale, in-person event, Goodman said. Out of concern for the safety of the local survivor community, however, BJC elected to create a prerecorded video in partnership with Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

The BJC commemoration will feature Matthias Hass, the head of the education and research department of the House of the Wannsee Conference Memorial Site and Education Center in Germany. Hass will give the event’s keynote presentation on the origins of the Wannsee Conference and “what Germany is doing to reckon with that 80 years after,” Goodman said.

While nothing about the Holocaust is easy to learn about, Goodman said, she viewed the Wannsee Conference as a particularly challenging subject.

“When you learn about the individuals that are present [at the Wannsee Conference], you’re learning that they are well-educated doctors and political officials, and they’re very highly regarded men who are well-educated, and still have come to this consensus that genocide is the best solution,” Goodman said. “It’s almost shocking to know that such highly educated individuals could have such hatred within them.

“We ultimately weren’t going to focus on this, but then we later on decided that it’s important to highlight this history, because if we do not continue to carry on the lessons, that will get lost,” Goodman said. “And we cannot shy away from the difficult topics because they’re so important to teach others about.”

Shauna Leavey
Shauna Leavey (Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Howard County)

Meanwhile, the Jewish Federation of Howard County is planning a hybrid commemoration, said Shauna Leavey, the Federation’s director of community engagement, in an email. Set for April 27, the event is titled “Keeping the Memory Alive: Local Children and Grandchildren of Survivors Share the Stories of Their Families.” Those leading the event will be together in person, while the event will be livestreamed for virtual attendees.

“The annual Yom HaShoah commemoration is an event that strives to bring the community together to remember, to learn,” Leavey said. “We invite a wide array of local dignitaries and interfaith leaders, and all are welcome to join us. Each year is planned with current events in mind, as well as current trends in Jewish practice and engagement.”

In previous years, the Federation’s Yom HaShoah commemorations could draw between 300 and 500 attendees, Leavey said. She hopes to come close to that number with this year’s virtual event. As of April 14, she expected Sen. Ben Cardin, state Sen. Clarence Lam and Dels. Eric Ebersole and Jessica Feldmark to attend.

Asked what she hoped attendees would take away from the commemoration, Leavey spoke of the importance of memory, and how it can be a legacy left to children and grandchildren.

“Memory, like family heirlooms, is passed from generation to generation,” Leavey said. “Second and third generation survivors will continue to remember and mark the history of the Holocaust in ways that are relevant to the changing world. This is especially important as those who survived the Holocaust pass away and leave their family and community members to continue the rich history of collective memory.”

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