The Holocaust was commemorated Friday with personal remembrances, prayers and the warning that the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II should not be forgotten.
In a speech that surprised many who know him, Michael Zuhl, chief of staff for Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, told the solemn audience marking Holocaust Memorial Week of his parents' suffering at the hands of the Nazis.Other speakers at the half-hour ceremony held in the Capitol rotunda at noon included Elder Neal A. Maxwell of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gov. Norm Bangerter, University of Utah history Professor Ronald Smelser, Rabbi Frederick Wenger and Cantor Laurence Loeb.
"It is an especially personal experience for me to be here today, because of the effect the Holocaust has had on my own life," Zuhl said. "My family was deeply and tragically marked by the Holocaust in ways that will forever remain with us."
Zuhl's mother spent more than a year in a concentration camp. His father was forced to work in a Nazi labor camp, repairing communication lines. His paternal and maternal grandfathers were killed, as was an aunt. Nearly every member of his father's family was exterminated by the Nazis.
His parents survived their ordeals and emigrated to the United States, where they met and married. Zuhl said they have had a good life and in turn gave him and his brother the opportunity to lead happy and productive lives.
"There is a natural tendency for those of us who have always lived comfortably to take our freedoms and comforts for granted," he said. "But just as my parents had an obligation to remind my brother and me of the suffering they experienced and the suffering of so many others, I, too, have an obligation to pass on their stories to my own children."
By telling of the horrors experienced by his parents, Zuhl told the audience he hopes to teach them that "our freedoms and our comforts cannot be taken for granted, that it requires constant vigilance to see that the great insanity of the Holocaust can never happen again."
After the ceremony, which included the lighting of a memorial candle by Isaac Rose, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Zuhl was told again and again by members of the audience who knew him that they had no idea his parents were Holocaust victims.
Zuhl said he had followed the example set by his parents of forgetting the past and focusing on the future until he became a father. Teaching his children about their heritage helped him finally confront his parents' tragedy, Zuhl said.
Elder Maxwell, a member of the LDS Council of the Twelve, said that what paved the way for the Holocaust was not believing in, or forgetting, the teachings in the Bible, including the commandment against killing and the assurance that God has made "of one blood all nations of men."
"Whether on Israel's West Bank or on Salt Lake's east bench, keeping the basic commandments is crucial to peace, justice, mercy and human happiness," Elder Maxwell said.
Bangerter declared the week of April 10-17 "Days of Remembrance" for victims of the Holocaust. The governor said that today our greatest challenge is to recognize that each individual is an equal.
Smelser warned that it would be "most foolhardy" to believe that an event as horrendous as the Holocaust could not happen again. He said the Holocaust had its beginnings in a hatred of the Jewish people that started long before Hitler came to power in Germany.
The ceremony was sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the United Jewish Council of Utah and the governor's office.