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SEP 12, 2013

Yom Kippur has special meaning for Southland Holocaust survivors

By: Brenda Gazaar, Los Angeles Daily News

Robert Geminder was 6 years old when the Nazis forced him and his family into a Polish cemetery with throngs of other Jews and started shooting.

As he crouched on the ground from morning till nightfall on that autumn day in 1941, the Nazis killed many thousands of Jews who were in front of him until they fell into mass graves. When it started snowing and he and his family were told they could go home, pandemonium erupted and Geminder and his older brother were knocked unconscious by those scrambling to flee the carnage.

Their grandmother, Goldie Glotzer, who had also been pushed to the ground, found the boys and woke them up so they could go home before they were left behind. It was one of several times that Glotzer — who was later killed in their Polish ghetto in Stanislawow — would save Geminder’s life, he said.

With the Jewish Day of Atonement starting at sundown today, the 78-year-old man will not only fast and reflect but recite the names of his grandmother and other relatives who perished during the Holocaust. Geminder considers Yom Kippur the anniversary of their deaths or “yahrzeit” — in which it’s customary to say prayers in honor of the deceased — since he doesn’t know the actual dates they died.

Indeed, Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews and a time they contemplate life, atonement and the dearly departed, often has special significance for the Southland’s dwindling number of Holocaust survivors.

“It’s difficult; I think about my (relatives) like my poor grandmother; she was probably in her 50s” when she was killed, said Geminder, a former civil engineer-turned-teacher and a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. “There are many stories, as you can imagine. Many were brave, many saved people and unfortunately, many paid with their lives.”

Many Yom Kippur prayer books have a special section that makes reference to Jewish martyrs, those who died standing up for their religious beliefs, as well as those who perished in the Holocaust

In Redlands, Congregation Etz Hadar uses a Yom Kippur prayer book that offers a modern version of a martyrology prayer originally written to remember 10 rabbis of the land of Israel who were murdered by the Roman Empire around the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, said Janice Yellon, a founding member and a religious lay leader at the Conservative congregation.

The book includes prose, poems and prayers to remember the martyrs along with special readings to honor of victims of the Holocaust.

“Yom Kippur is a day where we take very seriously our personal freedom and our abilities to live as Jews and to worship as Jews,” Yellon said. “I think it’s very important as part of the observance of that day to recognize this has not been the case as recently as 60 years ago. ...We have to remember these kinds of things can happen if we’re not watching out for one another and not fighting against evil.”

Eva Perlman, 81, of Encino is convinced it was a series of miracles that saved her family — who fled from Berlin well before the war — from being discovered while hiding in Nazi-occupied France. They made their way to the French mountain village of Autrans, where their mother was able to change their names and birthplaces on their identity cards, and Perlman’s father enlisted in the French underground forces.

Once while Perlman’s father was away, a Nazi officer and his aide knocked on their landlord’s door and asked for a room. The frightened landlord volunteered Perlman’s mother’s bedroom and for a few torturous weeks, they lived with their family as her mother pretended she could speak only a bit of broken German. The unsuspecting Nazis finally left their home without realizing their true identities, Perlman said. 

Perlman’s parents lost most of their relatives and friends in the Holocaust; on Yom Kippur, she said, she remembers the 6 million Jews, as well as the 5 million non-Jews, who perished during that dark chapter in history.

“I’m not terribly religious (but) Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I keep them faithfully because it has been ingrained in me since I was born that they are terribly serious holidays,” said Perlman who regularly participates in the March of the Living, an annual two-week trip for Jewish teenagers to Poland and Israel in memory of the Holocaust.

While Jewish tradition has it that the fate of Jews is sealed on Yom Kippur for the coming year, Perlman noted that she doesn’t believe that God was responsible for the Holocaust.

“I don’t think he’s responsible for people being evil,” she said. “People choose evil.”

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