Six unlit candles were positioned across the theater stage at the Jewish Community Campus in Overland Park. Six candle-lighters stepped toward the tapers in unison Sunday afternoon and set them aglow.
Six flames, representing the six million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust. The first of the candle-lighters onstage was Sonia Warshawski, who as a young teenager watched her mother walk into a gas chamber.
More than 500 people, among them Holocaust survivors and their descendants, attended the memorial service on Sunday.
The annual service this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Memorial to the Six Million, a monument on the community campus.
In an emotional service that mixed music and talks, Rabbi David Glickman of Congregation Beth Shalom ended his opening remarks with a prayer.
“Give us the courage and strength to continue to fight evil when we see it in our midst,” he said.
The memorial service honored Holocaust victims and survivors, who not only carried on after the war but also succeeded against all odds.
Sharon Barber, daughter of Holocaust survivor Jack Mandelbaum, recalled her father’s story about coming to the United States and specifically to Kansas City, a place suggested by the immigration official who interviewed him in New York.
Her father told the agent he wanted to go somewhere that was “not too big and not too small, where he could become a part of the community,” Barber said. “For the survivors, the United States was a land of freedom and of opportunity. The survivors rolled up their sleeves and worked hard.”
Ken Sigman, a Jewish Community Center officer, told about going with his wife to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where visitors can see the stairs that weak and malnourished prisoners, hauling boulders, were forced to climb.
“It’s a memory and emotion I will carry with me the rest of my life,” Sigman said. “Every day is a diamond. Every day is precious. And we don’t know if we will get another day.”
Nata Scharf and Liz Davidow, sisters from Overland Park, attended the service Sunday, as they do most years.
“Our parents were survivors of the Holocaust,” Scharf said. “We came to this memorial with them for many years. Since they’re both gone, now we also come as a tribute to them.”
“We don’t forget,” Davidow said.
The service concluded at the Memorial to the Six Million, which was dedicated in 1963 by President Harry S. Truman and was one of the first such memorials in the United States.
In his closing remarks, Rabbi Alan Londy of the New Reform Temple said that in trying to grasp such evil, evil beyond comprehension, words often aren’t up to the challenge.
“We must leave room for silence, reflection and prayer,” he said.
Warshawski agreed. She was a teenager imprisoned in three concentration camps, she witnessed her mother disappear into a gas chamber, and on the day of her liberation, she survived a gunshot wound to her chest.
“It’s something you cannot express,” she said. “You have to be in that hell to really feel it.”