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Commemorating victims of the Holocaust

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Temple Emanu-El of Long Beach hosted its annual Yom Hashoah Holocaust Memorial program on May 5, where a local Holocaust survivor served as the guest speaker and shared his early life experiences.

About 100 from the Long Beach community attended despite rainy conditions to listen to Simon Berger, 94, speak about his days in concentration camps in Lodz Ghetto when he was a teenager.

Rabbi Jack Zanerhaft said Berger described horrific conditions of Jewish people being rounded up and forced to live in tight quarters, in squalor.

“Anybody that couldn’t work because of age and health were immediately killed, and only the able-bodied were able to get a coupon to get a piece of bread a day,” Zanerhaft said. People died of starvation and disease, Berger said, as he painted a picture of the inhumane conditions that he, himself, lived through.

He recalled being separated from his family members and transported to multiple concentration camps before he and others were liberated by Russian and American troops in 1945. He made his way to Palestine, met his wife, Rita, in 1946, and eventually travelled to Long Beach in 1952.

The couple is celebrating their 70th anniversary this year, and Berger received a standing ovation when he finished speaking.

After he highlighted his life with interesting details, Zanerhaft said, Berger struck a positive tone when he spoke about what America stands for, as “the land of opportunity.” Zanerhaft said the talk was timely and relevant, as it was delivered in the wake of the Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue shootings, and as the amount of anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes have risen around the country.

During the program, Cantor Lisa Klinger-Cantor performed Bilvavi and Eil Malei Rachamim. A candle-lighting ceremony was held after Berger spoke, and twins Molly and Mark Kantor, symbolizing the children lost in the Holocaust, lit candles. Monsignor Donald Beckman of St. Ignatius Martyr Church symbolized the Catholic clergy who helped the Jewish people, hiding them during the Holocaust, and lit a candle during the ceremony.

Additionally, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Temple Emanu-El invited students to present quotes to the community from Elie Wiesel, well-known author and Holocaust survivor.