Yom HaShoah: Remembering Shaya and Shaindl Schechet
YOM HASHOAH: REMEMBERING SHAYA AND SHAINDL SHECHET
by Efrem Sigel
Over the years I've attended my share of Yom HaShoah--Holocaust Remembrance Day-- commemorations, usually at our long-time synagogue in Pelham, NY. But the ceremony this past Sunday evening, in a different and novel setting, became personal for me in a way that was profoundly touching.
The commemorations are always predictable, the solemn lighting of six candles, one for each million Jews murdered by the Nazis, some recollections by a Holocaust survivor or family member, the singing of Hannah Senesch's famous poem, "Eli, Eli" (My God, My God), and at the end, the collective recitation of the kaddish.
This year instead of driving to Pelham I walked to a ceremony at the Brotherhood Synagogue in Gramercy Park, not far from where we now live. The service there was a collaborative effort by half a dozen area synagogues. Rabbis from the participating synagogues spoke briefly and a chorus composed of members of the congregations sang movingly.
I'm guessing there were about a hundred or so attendees--two or three children or teens, a few people in their 30s, but most of us in our 60s, 70s and 80s. I recognized faces from the neighborhood or from local synagogues, but most of the people were unknown to me. Thus I sat in lonely silence, listening to a survivor named Paul Brottman as he told how he, his brother, mother and sisters survived for two and a half years on the run, somehow evading the Germans and their collaborators who slaughtered tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews between 1941 and 1944.
Though Paul and his family witnessed unspeakable atrocities, their story, at least, had a happy ending; all five of them survived, saved in the end by advancing Russian troops,
At the end of the remembrance ceremony, those in attendance were invited to form a line, step to the microphone on the bima and say the name or names of relatives killed in the Shoah. Twenty or thirty men and women lined up in single file and one by one they came forward, taking their turn to say aloud the names of grandparents or great grandparents, siblings, mothers and fathers, cousins, aunts and uncles, or simply, unknown relatives with unknowable names.
And after listening for a few minutes I got to my feet and joined the procession. Another five or six people followed me; we were the end of the line. My turn came to approach the microphone. And here, out of all the unknown (to me) relatives who died, I said the names of the two family members whose identity I know: Shaya Shechet, my grandmother Sonia's brother (my great uncle), and Shaindl Shechet, Sonia's sister (my great-aunt).
I know nothing of Shaya and Shaindl's lives, I don't know what they looked like, what their personalities were, whether Shaindl crocheted or sewed like my grandmother Sonia, or played the violin like Sonia's daughter, my aunt Dora; whether Shaya was quick with numbers and a strong chess player like Sonia's son, my father Ben. I don't know if they were business people or Torah scholars or doctors, engineers or teachers, whether they had one child or many, whether their lives were comfortable or precarious. All I know is that from 1939 on they fell into the abyss of slaughter, annihilation, and suffering that took the lives of 6 million European Jews.
It's many years since the deaths of my grandmother Sonia and grandfather Harry, my parents Ben and Dorothy, my aunt Dora and uncle Sam, but with pleasure I can readily summon their faces, hear their voices, remember their laughter, see them standing, sitting, relaxing, holding a violin or an oboe, hunched over a chess board, cooking, burying their noses in newspaper pages or books, scolding or praising us, the children and grandchildren.
I wish it were possible to have such memories of Shaya and Shaindl, to have some fragment-intimate, revealing, amusing, even scandalous--of them as flesh and blood. But though I know nothing personal about them, I know this: That they were born and lived, laughed and cried. That they perished as innocents in the great catastrophe, the great shame of mankind that we call the Shoah. And I know that finally, they are remembered.
Efrem Sigel, 4/29/14