Hundreds gathered Sunday afternoon for an emotional ceremony surrounding the rededication of the newly restored Charleston Holocaust Memorial in Marion Square.
“There are cultures that forget their pasts and there are cultures that are held captive by their pasts. We do neither,” said Rabbi Yossi Refson. “We carry the past with us as we will carry the memory of the Shoah with us for as long as the Jewish people exist.”
The importance of remembering the Holocaust was highlighted by several people who spoke at the event, which began with a reading of names of those who were killed by the Nazi regime.
“Today we say to those of our people lost in Europe’s dark nights, we will never forget you, we will never cease to mourn you, we will not let you down,” Yossi said. “We will live for what you died for. Though it destroyed a third of our people, it did not destroy our faiths.”
When Holocaust survivor Joe Engel stood up and began addressing the crowd, he asked everyone to repeat after him.
“Never again,” he said matter-of-factly. “Never again! That’s why we are all here, to remind ourselves, never again.”
He remarked about the size of the crowd and thanked everyone for helping to make the memorial possible.
Before the unveiling of the names of the 24 major concentration, labor, transit and death camps in Europe that were added to the back wall of the memorial, architect Jonathan Levi said a few words about its background.
“We built it to last,” he said. “When I think of the memory of the Shoah and honoring the survivors, the one thing that gives me heart is that we built it to last. ... It will always be an indelible mark on the ground of Charleston, serving as witness to the events of the Holocaust.”
Levi said the memorial was designed in three parts in 1999; the sanctuary, a place of reflection meant to “transcend even the terrible events of the mid-twentieth century;” the place of assembly, a place meant to gather; and then the place of remembrance.
“It’s been said that time heals, but if there’s one thing that we all know, it’s that these past 16 years have not healed,” Levi said.
He spoke about the controversy of changing the memorial and adding the detail of names, which was requested by Engel, but said he changed his mind when he realized “people were forgetting.”
“The details that were inscribed are the right details for today,” Levi said, adding that things could change again in the future.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley talked briefly at the event about how impactful the memorial has been.
The Keynote speaker was S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, who was instrumental in creating a program at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in which chief justices, judges and legal professionals examine the failure of German jurists under the Nazi regime to uphold basic principles of the law.
She shared some of the education of that program with the crowd, stating that it was a story not known by many, even in the legal community.
The ceremony ended with the unveiling of the names at the memorial.
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughton.