Lest we forget

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Dozens of residents honored the survivors and remembered the victims of the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, at events across Southern Brooklyn on April 15.

Rabbis and residents tried to brighten the dark day by lighting memorial candles at Temple Shalom in Bergen Beach and the Bay Ridge Jewish Center. But the touching tributes can’t take away the pain of the Holocaust, according to one concentration camp survivor, who said at the at Temple Shalom event the world will never be able to understand the horror she lived through.

“It is too hard to explain,” said Rose Cwilich, who was in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from ages 15 to 20 years old. “You go to Hell — Hell is not enough to say.”

A former American solider who helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp almost exactly 70 years ago also spoke at the memorial, saying he still haunted by the horrors he saw there.

“I saw dead people, lots of them. And in a room full of dead people, they talk to you,” said Seymour Kaplan.

Kaplan left high school early to enlist in the Army, where he was a machine gunner. Because he spoke Yiddish, Kaplan said he was brought into the camps as an interpreter. But for nearly 50 years, Kaplan said he blocked the monstrous memories of the camp from his mind.

“When I came home my mother and father couldn’t stand listening to it and I felt dirtied by it — it just disappeared from my mind,” he said.

It was only when he was reunited with a fellow solider years that he was flooded with memories. Since then, Kaplan said he makes an effort to speak about his experiences at events throughout the city. He said he can still picture the dead bodies in the camp and he feels he owes it to them to share with the world what he has seen.

“I tell people very frankly what I saw there,” he said. “They seemed to be saying to me, ‘You gotta tell everybody, you should expose this, look what they did to me.’ ”

Yom HaShoah commemorates the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, celebrating the survivors, honoring the victims, and teaching the younger generation about the tragic time to prevent history from repeating itself.

At the Bay Ridge Jewish Center, locals and elected officials participated in an interfaith event that remembered all those who lost their lives with a dedication to the victims read from a Torah rescued from the Holocaust.

Temple Shalom honored the victims and survivors with a candle lighting ceremony. Kids from surrounding schools also sang memorial songs on the somber day.

It was an emotional evening, according to Cwilich.

“It is very sad for everybody,” she said.

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at or by calling (718) 260–4507. Follow her
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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