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Michael Cohen's Yom HaShoah Comments
April 20, 2009


On behalf of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation I would like to thank Hazzan Michael Horowitz and our Federation’s Executive Director Bill Wallen for organizing this Holocaust Memorial Program.

I applaud everyone in attendance as well this evening.  By being here you are making a statement that hatred, bigotry and genocide is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.  Hatred and genocide are not just Jewish problems, they are worldwide problems.  Whether it is bullying on the playground or genocide in Darfur, we cannot allow or tolerate hatred.  To allow is to enable.

In a world that is increasingly filled with hate, and where people seek to legitimize terror and suicide murderers, we must stand together for individual human dignity and rights, as well as American values of democracy and freedom.

I would like to share a story I read in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.

In 1978 a group of Neo Nazi’s announced they were going to stage a march through the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois.  Of the 70,000 residents of Skokie, 40,000 were Jewish and 7,000 were Holocaust survivors, the largest number in the world outside Israel.

Obviously, the community was outraged.  Barbara Steiner, a survivor, recalls that the rabbis said, “pull down the shades and don’t look at them,” but the Jews of Skokie and especially the survivors, had seen what can happen when you allow people to march in hate.  They saw hatred in Europe lead to genocide once before, and they decide it was not going to happen again if they could help it.   Eventually, the Nazi’s did march, but not in Skokie and their march was not a success, and it resulted in a larger and more productive counter protest.

This was a turning point in the way many Holocaust victims felt about their experiences.  For many years Holocaust survivors were reluctant to speak of their experiences, even to their children, but when the Nazi’s tried to march, they realized they needed to tell their story, and that ignited a world wide Holocaust education movement, according to Richard Hirschhaut.

By 1984, a group in Skokie started one of the first Holocaust museums in this country.  In 1990, they persuaded the state of Illinois to mandate the nation’s first Holocaust education curriculum.  By 2000 they built a new $45 million dollar museum that is the fourth largest Holocaust museum in the country, that also includes exhibits about other genocides in Africa and Europe.  The museum anticipates a quarter million school aged visitors a year.

So as we come together here this evening let us remember the victims of the Holocaust, six million Jews and five million non Jews, the innocent victims of mass murder, and let us be inspired to do everything in our power to not let hate, bigotry or genocide happen again in our hometown and anywhere in the world.