A virtual commemoration of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, recognizing Southern European and North African communities that were nearly eradicated will be presented Sunday.
The 11 a.m. commemoration will include a keynote speech by UCLA anthropology professor Aomar Boum and remarks by Albert Rosa, a 96-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death camp and Dachau concentration camp who was born in Greece.
“The Holocaust is usually understood as an Eastern European story and through a Eurocentric lens. The Sephardic communities in southern Europe and Northern Africa were nearly eradicated and forever changed due to the brutality of the Nazis,” said Beth Kean, CEO of Holocaust Museum LA, which is presenting the commemoration.
“It’s not as well known that those communities were victims of the Holocaust so we are paying tribute to them. The culture and language of those communities, like Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish Romance language derived from old Spanish, almost completely disappeared.”
Kean said “96% of the Jews in Greece” died in the Holocaust, most at Auschwitz.
“Jews had lived in Greece since the fourth century B.C. and the Greek Jewish community is considered one of the oldest continuous Jewish communities in Europe,” Kean told City News Service.
Boum will speak about “the importance of learning more about how the Holocaust impacted North Africa and Southern Europe to complete our understanding of how truly vast and horrific the Holocaust was,” Kean said.
Boum describes himself as “a socio-cultural anthropologist with a historical bent concerned with the social and cultural representation of and political discourse about religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East and North Africa.”
Much of Boum’s work has focused on the anthropology and history of Jewish-Muslim relations from the 19th century to the present. He has also written on such as topics as Moroccan Jewish historiography, Islamic archives and manuscripts, education, music, youth, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, migration and sports.
Rosa will share his personal story and “how it was extremely difficult for the Ladino communities of North Africa and Southern Europe when they got to Auschwitz after 10 days on a cramped, crowded train car where many died,” Kean said.
“They were not used to the weather and it was bitterly cold,” Kean said. “They also didn’t speak the language and couldn’t understand what the Germans were saying so many Jews died right away. He saw his brother hanged and his sister beaten to death.”
Following the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, Rosa fought in the Irgun, the Zionist paramilitary organization in Palestine. He came to the United States in 1949.
The commemoration will also include musical performances, speeches by city and state officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and dignitaries from Israel, Poland, Germany and Greece.
Registration for the commemoration and additional information is available at www.holocaustmuseumla.org/event-details/yom-hashoah-commemoration-ceremony-sephardic-victims-of-the-shoah.
Under a 1953 law passed by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, is annually observed on the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which began at sundown Wednesday and ended at sundown Thursday.
President Joe Biden issued a proclamation April 4 declaring April 4-11 as “Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust,” and called upon Americans “to observe this week and pause to remember victims and survivors of the Holocaust.”
“We honor the memories of precious lives lost, contemplate the incomprehensible wound to our humanity, mourn for the communities broken and scattered, and embrace those who survived the Holocaust, some of whom are still with us today, continuing to embody extraordinary resilience after all these years,” Biden wrote in his proclamation.
“Having borne witness to the depths of evil, these survivors remind us of the vital refrain: `Never Again.’ The history of the Holocaust is forever seared into the history of humankind, and it is the shared responsibility of all people to ensure that the horrors of the Shoah can never be erased from our collective memory.”