By ALAN SMASON
As it has done for the past 13 years, the New Orleans Jewish community came together to remember the lives of those lost during the Holocaust and to honor those who survived the ordeal and made the Crescent City their home. The Community-Wide Yom Hashoah Memorial was held on Sunday, April 15 at the Uptown Jewish Community Center.
The hour-long keynote address was given by Holocaust survivor Irene Miller, author of “Into No Man’s Land: A Historical Memoir.” Miller described how she and her sister were kept alive by her parents and others who put their lives at risk to hide them during the Holocaust. She described how she went from a playful girl of five with long brunette braids to being housed in an orphanage, where her hair was shaved off her head to prevent the spread of lice and disease.
“Horrors like the Holocaust don’t come on all at once,” Miller considered. “They start off with one small example of social injustice, which people willingly or unwillingly accept and then, through increments, become such monsters (they’re) difficult to control.”
Miller noted that Germany was considered the most intellectual and elitist nation in Europe at the time that the Holocaust began. She stated that most of the country could not believe their society was capable of exacting the horrors of the Nazis. “They were all bystanders,” she acknowledged.
Miller’s story of survival included her living on boiled grass and onions while sequestered in Uzbekistan or freezing in a labor camp in Siberia. Along the way, she recounted shivering from malaria and feeling the unimaginable pangs of hunger that drove her to despair.
Eventually, she found her way to Israel and to the United States, where she lived in Cincinnati. It was there she achieved a bachelor’s of science degree in Psychology and, later, a master’s degree in Social Psychology. She followed those degrees with a master’s degree in business administration, which led her to a career in hospital administration.
Miller spent most of the rest of her career living in the Detroit area, where she is now a retired healthcare executive and HMO administrator. Her work in the area of drug addiction was heralded around the country and she served in Washington, D.C. for a short time as a consultant.
Miller was the first of several designated guests and members of the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial Committee to light six candles designated to memorialize the six million Jewish lives lost during the Shoah. The candles were lit on a special wooden menorah constructed by Holocaust survivor Isak Borenstein of blessed memory.
A memorial service led by Congregation Gates of Prayer Rabbi Robert Loewy, son of survivors Leopold Sher and Chabad Center of Metairie’s Rabbi Yossie Nemes concluded the program. All the names of the New Orleans area survivors were read aloud.
The evening began with solemn music playing by Armand St. Martin to accompany the three remaining area Shoah survivors, who were accompanied by the children and grandchildren of survivors who have passed away and the members of the latest class of the Anti-Defamation League’s Donald Mintz National Youth Leadership Mission.
Former ADL South Central Region director Cathy Glaser, the chair of the New Orleans Holocaust Committee, served as the emcee for the evening. Glaser first called upon Touro Synagogue Rabbi Alexis Berk to offer an opening prayer. Berk referred back to a commentary by Rabbi David Wolpe, who wrote in the CCJN of his traveling to Spain and being confronted by the “ghosts” of the past, those former Jewish community sites that no longer exist.
Following the singing of the national anthem and Hatikvah by Temple Sinai Cantor Joel Colman, Heidi Winston was called upon to introduce the individual members of the ADL mission that returned from Washington, D.C. earlier in the year. They each read pieces written by New Orleans area survivors and others and then identified their identities after all were read aloud. Winston, an advisor to former Tulane University president Scott Cowell, was one of the chaperones for the group on their trip to Washington.
Henry Rosenblat and his sister Ruth Loeffelholz, the offspring of New Orleans survivors Ralph and Gertrude Rosenblat of blessed memory, introduced the Holocaust Educator of the Year, Melanie Boulet, a world history teacher at New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School.
She accepted the certificate and the cash award that came with the honor with grace and humility.