SALT LAKE CITY — Praying, singing and expressing their hope for a less discriminatory world, about 300 Utah Jews and their friends Monday honored the memory of those lost in the Holocaust at the Jewish Community Center.
Gov. Gary Herbert, Rwandan genocide survivor Eric Nkurunziza and "Schindler's List" producer Gerald Molen offered tributes to those who lost their lives or loved ones in the mass extermination of 6 million Jews during the 1930s and 1940s.
They also extended a warning that the threat of genocide remains a danger the world must grapple with today.
"We're here today to remember the victims of tragedy," Herbert said. "We honor those survivors, those who fought, those who helped in any way, and those who have passed on. We should never allow such tragic, despicable things to happen again. Not only ought we to remember and understand, but to do something about it, so that those who died did not die in vain."
The group gathered to observe the nationwide Days of Remembrance that was instituted in 1979 as an annual event to educate Americans about the magnitude of the Jewish Holocaust. Survivors, witnesses and veterans alike gathered to rally around the 2013 national theme, "Never Again: Heeding the Warning Signs."
"We honor those affected by the Holocaust, but it's not just about the Holocaust. It's about genocide everywhere," said Alex Shapiro, executive director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, mentioning the recent violence in Syria, which has resulted in at least 70,000 deaths. "Through events like this one today, through education, we challenge ourselves to recognize the warnings of atrocities."
Jews in attendance emphasized that younger generations must be taught not to forget the lessons of the Holocaust.
"You have to remember, because what you forget will happen again," said Jerry Pawl, who remembers losing four aunts in the Auschwitz concentration camp as a child. "It's especially important for children to understand. You can never forget. We'll be gone soon, but we hope young people will be able to carry on and remember."
Children were also a focal point of much of Monday's ceremonies. Salt Lake City's One Voice Children's Choir sang several numbers about healing and hope for the future, and students from Salt Lake City's McGillis School lit six memorial candles in honor of the 6 million Jews who lost their lives.
Molen's presentation included a stern warning about the public education system skirting the unpleasant history of the Holocaust.
"Many schools do not feel it's necessary to teach history, let alone the Holocaust," he said. "Deciding to dismiss the past as unimportant robs children of their futures."
Molen said filming "Schindler's List," the 1993 Academy Award-winning film about a businessman who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, was "one of the most significant events in my life" because it led to a revival in education about the Holocaust at a time when it had slipped from the American consciousness.
"I came to understand something, that this was a very special project," he said. "To my thinking, it was guided by a divine hand. … Antisemitism was on the rise again, and many schools were teaching only one or two paragraphs on the Holocaust and many others not at all."
All but one sibling of Nkurunziza's family was killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, he said. He spoke Monday about the persistent denial of the Holocaust and other genocides in some regions of the world.
"A most preventable genocide took place (in Rwanda)," Nkurunziza said. "But today we are faced with massive movements of genocide denial. Let's turn our (faces) toward a future that is actually free of genocide."
The definition of what constitutes genocide is hotly debated among historians, but it's commonly estimated that 15 to 20 smaller genocides have occurred worldwide since the start of the 21st century.
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