As the harmonies of the VOICES Multicultural Chorus filled the James L. Law Auditorium with "Ani Ma'amin" (I Believe), also known as the "Hymn of the Camps," hundreds of community members somberly gathered at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine to commemorate the Holocaust, affirm community and mark the anniversary of Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass, the beginning of the destruction of the Jews of Europe) Nov. 7.
Survivors recounted stories of hope, fear and lessons learned. Leopold Gruenfeld, a witness to Kristallnacht, recalled the inaction of the police as his school and synagogue burned to the ground. "I actually remember looking up, hoping that God would answer," he said.
Ruth Windmuller, only 14 when she left her home, recounted the increasing restrictions on Jews, eventually forcing her family to flee on a ship bound for Cuba that was later rejected.
After losing both his parents and living to be the youngest survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau said he learned, "Every Jew, wherever he lives, is a Holocaust survivor."
Cornell professor and Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann spoke of the large group of his family who survived, thanks to the Ukrainian family that sheltered them for 15 months.
The personal stories and hymns by VOICES and the Ithaca Children's Choir also provided a context to focus on the Goldsworthy Holocaust Memorial Garden of Stones, located in the Cornell Plantations. The sculptures, hollow granite boulders with dwarf chestnut trees growing from the soil inside, represent the "inherent tension between the ephemeral and the timeless, the young and the old, the unyielding and the pliable" and resilience under impossible circumstancesread a slideshow of the sculptures. Tree and stone are symbiotic, said President David Skorton, a partnership made stronger by the tree's growth from the stone.
Expressions of remembrance and solidarity extended beyond the Jewish community, as members of many faiths attended to help raise awareness of the causes of injustice and violence. Hannah Feldshuh, a junior at Ithaca's Lehman Alternative Community School, spoke of a German woman who intervened when a Jewish classmate was being bullied, a small act of heroism that prevented small steps toward greater violence.
"Perhaps one maxim can save us," said Feldshuh. "Take action. Take action when bigotry and corruption run rampant through our political and social arenas. Take action when students stand to forget the horrors that occurred before their time. Take action so that we can truly say, never again."
Chana Silberstein, the facilitator of the event and co-chair of the board of directors of the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community, echoed these sentiments, saying that through acts of kindness the living can give the dead eternal life.
Added Skorton: "We must encourage throughout our society among people of all ages both learning of history and facts and ideas and the grounding of that knowledge in cultural understanding, compassion and sense of justice. We need a society that is informed and engaged, but also compassionate and vigilant."
The event was sponsored by many local organizations and hosted by the Ithaca Area United Jewish Community.
Erica Rhodin '12 is a student writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.