After three years of virtual programming due to COVID-related concerns, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration returns in person at Chatham University’s Campbell Memorial Chapel on April 18.
The Holocaust Center is “very pleased that the community can be together again for a very meaningful program that I know means so much to so many members of our community,” Christina Sahovey, the Holocaust Center’s operations manager, said.
With both in-person and virtual options available, Sahovey anticipates a large turnout.
This year’s program, she said, will have an intergenerational focus.
“We will be showing that, even when the survivors are gone, their stories will continue through their family members first and foremost, but also through the Center as well,” she said.
Helping convey the message, she continued, is a candle-lighting ceremony.
“We will have the candles for the 6 million, which has always been an integral part of the program, and we are planning to have those candles be lit by children and grandchildren,” she said. “We're also expecting even a couple great-grandchildren of survivors to do this candle lighting.”
With the liberation of the camps occurring 78 years ago, the number of survivors continues to dwindle.
Times of Israel reported last year that 161,400 Holocaust survivors live in Israel, with an average age of 85.5.
About 50,000 Holocaust survivors were living in the United States in 2022, according to The Atlanta Jewish Times.
Four local survivors will be featured during this year’s Yom HaShoah program thanks to a film created by Chatham University students Anna Betar and Sean McIntosh. The film, which will be released in its fuller version on the Holocaust Center’s YouTube channel after the Yom HaShoah program, also will include an excerpted interview with Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the new Tree of Life nonprofit.
Zawatsky’s father, Sahovey said, was one of the liberators of the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Between August 1938 and May 1945, approximately 197,000 prisoners passed through the Mauthausen camp system. At least 95,000 prisoners — including more than 14,000 Jews — died there, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The April 18 event will be the Holocaust Center’s first public program since coming under the auspices of the Tree of Life nonprofit, which will serve, in part, as a memorial for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
"It's exciting," Sahovey said. "Being part of the reimagined Tree of Life helps us to cultivate a better and deeper understanding of the Holocaust to a larger audience, and how we can connect the past to counter antisemitism today."
Another mechanism for bridging the past and present is music.
The commemoration will feature violinist David McCarroll, violinist Dylan Naroff, violist Tatjana Mead Chamis and cellist Angela Park. The quartet will play pieces by composers whose art was labeled Entartete (degenerate or decadent) by the German government in the years preceding World War II.
Composer Flavio Chamis, who worked with the musicians and the Holocaust Center to create a meaningful listening experience for attendees, said the program “brings three suppressed composers who are gradually reappearing in music programs and recordings around the world.”
Playing these composers’ pieces is “a regenerative deed,” he continued. For both the musicians and listeners, the performance is part of a long process of restoring this music “to where it rightfully belongs.”
Sahovey credited Chamis and the musicians with helping to create a moving program that can be enjoyed both in person and online.
As in years past, thanks to the many portions of the program, the Yom HaShoah commemoration will provide a chance to "hear the stories of survivors who are with us and be inspired by their lives and what they've gone through, their resiliency," she said.
The annual event, she continued, is about remembering and preparing for the future.
"Even though we hate to think about it, once the survivors are gone, their memories will continue to live on in their family members and others, who will continue to carry on their legacy, and carry on their story and their memories,” she said. PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.