Nearly 1,000 people filled the sanctuary at Temple Israel on Sunday to remember – with somber poetry, music, prayer and testimony – the night of Nazi horror that started the Holocaust.
“Tonight our hearts are heavy … and we hear the echoes of their terror,” Rabbi Faith Cantor said, recalling the victims of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.
On Nov. 9, 1938, Jews in Germany and in German-occupied territory were beaten, arrested or killed, their businesses were ransacked, and their synagogues were torched.
On Sunday, exactly 70 years later, tears and the melancholy strains of the musical score from “Schindler's List” greeted a procession of 17 Holocaust survivors and nine World War II veterans who helped liberate the death camps. Each was escorted by a survivor's grandchild. Each stopped at the front of the sanctuary to light a yahrzeit, or memory candle.
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Walter Marx, 83, was accompanied by his granddaughter, Emily Marx, 16, who attends Myers Park High.
The elder Marx was barely a teenager himself that nightmarish November day in 1938, when two men rang the bell of his home in Munich. They gave his father three minutes to get ready, and then they dragged him off to Dachau, a concentration camp.
It was on that night, Marx said, that his parents decided to send him away to England to save him.
That kind of experience “shapes your life,” Marx, now aged and a retired businessman, said before Sunday's service began. “It makes you who you are.”
Also in line Sunday, dressed in his World War II Army uniform, was Mickey Dorsey, 83, another retired Charlotte businessman who now lives near Charleston. The medals on his chest included one from the government of Israel.
A member of General Patton's Third Army, he still remembers the stench of dead bodies at Gunskirchen Lager, a concentration camp in Austria. Before he and the other liberators arrived, Jews were dying, mostly of starvation, at a rate of 300 a day.
“I'd seen all kinds of bodies in combat,” he said before Sunday's procession. “But when we went in that camp … the horrors of it were absolutely indescribable.”
Leading the procession Sunday was Charlotte physician Herb Stern, a son of Holocaust survivors, who carried a Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) that had been burned during the war years in Europe.
It had been taken by German troops from a synagogue in Breznice in the former Czechoslovakia to put in a museum in nearby Prague.
“This Torah was to be part of a precious legacy exhibit the Nazis were putting together,” Rabbi Murray Ezring of Temple Israel said. “Their hope was that once the Jewish people were annihilated, this would be kept in a museum for people to see what happened.”
As the war turned against Germany, the Nazis burned the collection of artifacts, but the Torah was rescued.
It was permanently loaned to Temple Israel 20 years ago on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
Parts of the Torah are missing; much of the middle part is water- and smoke-damaged from efforts to put out the fire.
It can't be used by the temple because it is not complete. It is lighter than most Torahs. “Yet when I pick it up,” Ezring said, “I feel I have the weight of a generation on my shoulders.”
Stern's late parents, Ben and Yadzia, were both liberated from Nazi concentration camps. On Sunday, he carried the sacred book in their honor.
“It is sad, but it allows me … to remember the sacrifices they made for me and for their grandchildren,” said Stern.
His parents' death camp numbers – the ones tattooed on their arms at Auschwitz and Dachau – are etched in a window at Temple Israel that memorializes them.