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May 6, 2009 > Holocaust survivor recounts story of perseverance

Holocaust survivor recounts story of perseverance

By Miriam G. Mazliach

"Silence is not always golden, if ever. It can be lethal and can only become golden again if spoken," says Rita Kuhn, Holocaust survivor and featured speaker at the Holocaust Remembrance Service at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont.

Clergy from different faith organizations recently participated in the Yom HaShoah service, sponsored for the 26th year by the Tri-Cities Interfaith Council. Service attendees listened as clergy members recited inspiring poetry, read excerpts from literature, and recited prayers in memory of six million Jews and other victims killed during the Holocaust.

"The Holocaust Remembrance service recognizes that the Shoah was both a tragic loss for the Jewish people and a time of sorrow for all humanity," notes Rabbi Avi Schulman.

The evening's highlight was hearing from 82-year-old Kuhn, who felt she spoke for those who did not survive. Born in Berlin in 1927, Kuhn learned firsthand how it felt to be an outsider. She was five when the Nuremberg laws were created to expel Jews from German neighborhood schools, boycott their businesses, and remove them from civil service positions. She had to leave her school, and her father lost his job at a bank.

Kuhn continued her education at the synagogue's school until the nights of November 9-10, 1938, when she witnessed massive vandalism, property destruction and saw her synagogue burned to the ground.

"Sacred objects, books and our Torah were taken and destroyed, while the Stormtroopers, men wearing brown jackets, stood around and prevented fire trucks from stopping," Kuhn recalls. This "Night of Broken Glass," or Kristallnacht, foreshadowed what would ultimately lead to the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan of mass genocide. "I felt alone, forsaken by the world and God at the time," Kuhn remembers sadly.

Kristallnacht started the rapid path to concentration camps and gas chambers. "The world seemed to keep silent, and those who spoke up were sent to concentration camps," she says.

With the start of World War II in 1939, Kuhn and her family received identification cards stamped with a "J." They were required to sign their names with "Israel" for males and "Sarah" for females. Most personal property was confiscated and Jews were forced to move into an area of ghetto apartments.

In 1941, Jews were required to sew a yellow "Star of David" on every article of clothing. Refusal meant being sent to a concentration camp. Kuhn started working in a forced-labor plant and at one point was rounded up by the SS with the terrifying words, "Jews out!"

She and others were put onto a truck and taken to a building with a large courtyard filled with SS. Once there, men and women were separated, names were called, and most were sent away to their deaths.

Kuhn was spared because her documents showed that her mother, Frieda, was born Lutheran. Although Frieda had converted and was married to a Jewish man, the SS considered her to be a "true-blood German."

Food rations worsened. Kuhn, her father and brother Hans, while working at forced labor, were rounded up in connection with Hitler's birthday. They were detained all day in a collection center called "Clou," then sent to a detention center in Rosenstrasse (Rose Street) to await deportation to a concentration camp.

A group of non-Jewish wives of imprisoned Jewish men began the "Rosenstrasse Protests." Their brave efforts brought about the release of some of the men after several weeks. Those who were not as lucky were sent to Auschwitz.

Kuhn continued to work in forced-labor factories until her liberation by the Russian army in 1945. She immigrated to the United States in 1948, while her parents and brother decided to remain in Germany.

"I was very lucky that my family survived. We lost so many friends and relatives. I only came to a full realization of how many died when the war ended. Religious intolerance is incomprehensible," she concludes.

"The Tri-City Interfaith Council evolved from the former Tri-City Ministerial Association," according to Rev. Garnet McClure. "Over time, our organization became increasingly both interfaith and a mix of professional clergy and faith community lay representatives.

"In the interest of clarity, we changed our name, but not our purpose - to foster harmony and better understanding between faith communities, to provide friendship and support to our members, and to create opportunities for joint worship and service."

Representatives of the Tri-City Interfaith Council who took part in the service included: Rev. Bob Ahrenkiel, Center for Spiritual Living; Cyndy Hardwick and Don Naylor, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Wayne Lowe, Ph.D., Christian Counseling Centers; Rev. Garnet McClure, Fremont Congregational United Church of Christ; Rev. Lauran Pifke, St. Anne's Episcopal Church; Minister Emeritus Chris Schriner, Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation; and Rabbi Avi Schulman, Temple Beth Torah.

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