An Interfaith Holocaust Memorial Journey by IFLC Board Member Gail Katz

Holocaust center

About 25 women from Temple Israel in West Bloomfield and Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit came together on Sunday, April 26th for an interfaith experience at the Holocaust Memorial Center.  We were taken on a 90-minute tour of the center by our outstanding guide, Alan Eidelman.  He explained that the building we were in was not a museum but a memorial for the almost seven million Jews that were murdered by the Nazis, and to honor the Christians and Muslims who helped to save some members of Jewish communities during the 1930’s and 1940’s. As we stood in front of the eternal flame and the wall that lists the numbers of murdered Jews, Mr. Eidelman explained that we are here to honor dead people!

Mr. Eidelman took our group over to the boxcar which the Nazis used to transport millions of European Jews to concentration camps and their deaths during the Holocaust, and described the unbearable conditions of packing hundreds of people into this car.  People died standing up on route to the camps. Symbols in the Holocaust Memorial Center were pointed out – the red brick on the walls representing the chimneys where Jews were burned to death, the barbed wire along the walls representing the death camps, the train tracks representing the transports to the concentration camps.

We entered the Jewish Heritage Room where a damaged Torah scroll was on display. We went to a room with an artistic display with books only in the middle of the shelves. The top and the bottom of the display had empty shelves- symbolizing the 1.5 million Jewish children who were murdered, who would no longer read the books on the bottom shelves as children, and would never grow up to read the books at the top!

We talked about the banning of Jews in Europe from working as doctors and lawyers, and the banning of Jewish children from going to the public schools. We learned that November 9th and 10th, 1938 were the nights of broken glass, known as “Kirstallnacht” and was the official beginning of the Holocaust.  Not only Jews were sent off to the death camps, but also Romas, Sintis, Homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Poles.  Our group was horrified to hear Mr. Eidelman explain how the hair, skin, gold fillings and the saliva of the Jewish inmates in the camps were used by the Germans.

At the end of our tour, we had the pleasure of hearing George Erdstein tell us about his personal family story.  His grandparents were born in Poland and emigrated to Vienna.  There were 200,000 Jews there at the time. In 1938 life changed for his family as the Nazi’s took over. His parents were able to get passports to New York, and escaped, but George’s grandparents were deported on the cattle cars to a concentration camp in Belarus in 1942 and perished.

It was a difficult and very painful journey through the Holocaust Memorial Center, seeing what hate can do if we don’t stand up and speak out!  It felt so powerful for Temple Israel and Hartford Memorial Baptist Church sisters to take this tour together and better understand history and its challenges.  We all need to grapple with our past in order to increase respect and understanding for each other as Jews and African Americans!!

We look forward to our joint venture at the Charles Wright African American Museum on Sunday, July 26th, and our social action and potluck event at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church on June 4th at 6:00 PM!!