Holocaust survivor shares story

YOUNGSTOWN – A Youngstown woman who survived the Holocaust during her teens will always be able to have her story told. She gives a firsthand account of what she faced in a new film.

Esther Shudmak’s story was shown Sunday during a Shoah memorial ceremony at the Jewish Community Center.

Sunday evening began Yom Hashoah – the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day – which runs through this evening. It is a day to commemorate the 6 million Jews killed from before the start of World War II in 1939 until the end of the war in 1945.

At the Jewish Community Center, student art projects were displayed, different people presented Holocaust-inspired readings and a candlelight ceremony was conducted with the survivors and children of survivors lighting candles.

Those lighting candles were Sonja Schwartz, Charlotte Kalus, Eva Cropp, Kurt Wegner and Sally Friedman. Also, Rabbi Joseph Schonberger of Temple El Emeth in Liberty and Rabbi Franklin Muller of Congregational Rodef Sholom in Youngstown each lit candles.

Schonberger said this year’s theme, ”Confronting the Holocaust: American Responses,” helps youth find relevance with their lives in what happened then and how to make sure it never happens again.

A second Holocaust anniversary commemoration will be held at noon Tuesday at the rotunda of the Mahoning County Courthouse. It will feature the recognition of the winners of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s annual student Holocaust writing contest and the presentation of the a proclamation by Youngstown Mayor John McNally.

There will be a memorial candlelighting ceremony.

”These memorials are meaningful because they honor our survivors as well as the children, grandchildren and now even great-grandchildren of those who did not survive,” Schonberger said.

Schonberger said just as Holocaust survivor Bill Vegh’s story is told through a display exhibition with multiple panels, now Shudmack’s story is also told.

”These stories allow us to channel survivors’ insights and examples,” he said.

Shudmack, currently a Cleveland resident, was born in 1927 in Czechoslovakia and later became a teacher in Youngstown when she and her husband moved here from Europe.

In the film, she speaks of what she and her family experienced during the Holocaust with the anti-Jewish laws. She tells of the horrors and cruelty in Auschwitz and how her parents did not survive.

”Many people who have known Esther were influenced by her and remember her as a teacher. She is a special person who has left a legacy for us,” Schonberger said. ”Except for our youngest generations, many of us have been influenced and impacted by her character, personality and teaching.”

Shudmack was a frequent speaker on the Holocaust and wanted people to understand what she experienced and how the pain will never go away.

Muller, a child of Holocaust survivors, spoke of his six-day rabbinic mission to eastern Europe last fall.

He said he and others were in Berlin on Nov. 9, which was the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1938.

”I particularly wanted to see how Germany would mark this anniversary in the place where the Holocaust began. How does a nation that perpetrated the Holocaust come to terms with its history and deeds?” Muller said.

He said a museum has been placed on the site of the destroyed German military headquarters in Berlin.

”Our guide explained to us the city wanted to find a way after the building was torn down to mark and remember what had taken place there. Many young Germans have turned their grief into a positive commitment to create a new kind of German society,” Muller said.

He said he saw many German students who were at the museum to learn about the lessons and what took place in that period of history.

”They learned of the horrors of that time and deal with what occurred and to not create a state where another Holocaust can occur,” he said.

Muller said most of the people they met were not born or were just children at the time of the Holocaust and were not held responsible for what their grandparents or parents did.

He said he left the trip with a future of hope for positive German-Jewish community relations.

Susan Blecher, who spoke at the event, said the Holocaust Remembrance Day is a reminder to all today that ”we have a responsibility to remember those who have died.”