Sixty-five years after the Holocaust, and Yom Hashoah — April 11 — remains, appropriately, a day that the Jewish community can’t figure out how to observe. And rightly so. Most holy days are actually on the day something unique happened, unlike Yom Hashoah, whose Nissan 27 date was a Knesset compromise rather than a holy anniversary.
But forget the Hebrew date for a second, some heaven-quaking things did happen on April 11. In 1943, that was the day that your morning New York Times told you that the ghettos of Cracow and Lodz were totally wiped out.
According to the Auschwitz Chronicle (published by Henry Holt and company, compiled by Danuta Czech from the archives of the Auschwitz Memorial and German Federal Archives), here’s what happened in Auschwitz on April 11, 1944:
Some 2,500 Jews from Athens arrive in boxcars; 1,067 go right into the gas chambers; 320 men went to the tattoo chambers. The first Greek Jew in that group sticks out his arm and gets branded with blue ink — number 182440. The last Jew in line gets a needle under his skin, inking 182759; the 328 Greek women who pass selection get numbers 76856 to number 77183.
It was a busy day, April 11, 1944. Two prisoners — Czeslaw Madrzyk and Grigori Orlov-Maro (number 64908) — escape out of Birkenau.
The next day? Piotr Hromojew is murdered by an SS man because Piotr was defending his brother from that same SS man. On the dying man’s arm is number 181378.
Has anyone noticed that we don’t see too many survivors with numbers anymore? Anyone know why? My hunch is that it had something to do with the dizzying numbers (more than 400,000 in six weeks) of the 1944 Hungarian transports, too many for the tattoo shed to handle. And the Hungarian survivors (having spent less than a year under the Nazis compared to the five years spent by Polish survivors) are now one of the few Jewish survivor groups left standing.
Just looking through these Auschwitz archives, I see that on Dec. 8, 1944, the number of female dwarfs in the Auschwitz infirmary decreases by 11. The 11 died from medical experiments conducted in the infirmary by Dr. Mengele. After the 11, only five female dwarfs remain in the camp.
Don’t think that Mengele was the only doctor in Auschwitz. On Dec. 28, 1944, the number of women prisoners at the "experimental station" of Dr. Clauberg decreases by one, leaving him "273 women for research purposes."
On April 11, 2010, at Kehilath Jeshurun (125 E. 85th Street, 7 p.m.) Emunah’s Jossi Berger Holocaust Study Center, in conjunction with the KJ congregation — I’m just picking one event out of dozens — will have a candle lighting ceremony for survivors, their children and grandchildren, along with some musical presentations. What would be perfectly chilling would be a small orchestra playing some of the music that Piotr Hromojew might have heard in Auschwitz on his last morning before he died in defense of his brother. Emunah’s Berger Center will also be announcing the winners of their annual Holocaust essay contest.
Also on the program will be Tovah Feldshuh presenting an excerpt from Irena’s Vow, as recently performed on Broadway. The Irena of the vow was Irena Gut Opdyke, a young Polish woman who saved a dozen Jews by hiding them in the basement of the home of her employer, a Nazi major.
The Yom Hashoah event, "The Spirit of Survival," was organized by KJ and Emunah of America, particularly Caroline Massel, Doria Doris Hirsch, Cecelia Margules and Shirley Singer, along with with Emunah National President Mindy Stein. God bless them for it. I only mention this one event, but God bless those at every shul and Jewish center doing something appropriate for the day. And God bless those who will stay home, sitting in the flickering shadows of a yahrtzeit flame, imagining.