May 10th, 2008

Quilt of Memory honors Holocaust victims
Breathtaking piece of art is unveiled during remembrance ceremony
By Angela Randazzo Special to the Acorn

WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN- The Quilt of Memory hangs for all to see at the third annual Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day last Sunday. The event was held in the Kamenir Chapel at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Simi Valley.
With loving care, people who lost a loved one in the Holocaust created fabric squares for a quilt.

Each square is unique. Each one tells a story of tragedy and hope.

On Sunday, the dedication of the Mount Sinai Shoah Quilt of Memory was part of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day held at Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Simi Valley.

More than 400 people gathered in the Kamenir Chapel for the ceremony and unveiling of three kingsized quilts.

"In some cases, people used a photo transfer of a family member on their square," said Leonard Lawrence, general manager of the memorial park. "Some are sewing and etching, and some have things attached. They each have a story."

Erin Zucker, a 10th-grader at Westlake High School, created a simple hand-sewn square of a lighted candle with the word "remember" to honor her grandfather, Michael Mark, a Holocaust survivor. "It's part of my life and my grandpa's. I thought it would be a special thing to do," said Zucker, who attended the memorial observance with her grandfather, her aunt and her mother. "It symbolizes everybody and their lives. The flame keeps them going."

WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers HIS MARK- Robert Geminder of Palos Verdes points out details of his personal square, which is part of the Quilt of Memory, to his aunt, June Heiser Shub of Los Angeles.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Mark was sent to a concentration camp when he was 18 years old, along with his parents and extended family. "We were taken, and everyone was killed the same day, those who were not selected as slaves," Mark said. "My mother survived the camp and was taken to Sweden to recuperate, but she died five months later. At least she has a grave site that I can visit."

Quilt project coordinator Lesley Rich has received more than 150 squares from several countries. Residents of Simi Valley and communities throughout Southern California contributed squares as well.

"We sent a mailing out and invited people to submit squares that commemorated or spoke to the Holocaust in any way they wanted. The response was overwhelming," Lawrence said. "We originally were hoping to make one quilt. We now have three quilts, and we're still getting squares."

Marlene Alonge, a fabric artist from Santa Monica, assembled the quilts- backed with blue taffeta and suede material- from December to April. "The squares started arriving slowly, and I started getting nervous," Alonge said.

"Then all of sudden we got this incredible response. I studied the squares and read the stories. It was a joyous gift."

During Sunday's dedication ceremony, the Long Beach Opera Company presented selections from the opera "The Diary of Anne Frank," sung by soprano Cheri Stark.

A short video ran highlighting some of the square makers and their stories.

Rabbi David Wolfe, senior rabbi at Sinai Temple of Los Angeles, was guest speaker.

Recently named by Newsweek magazine as one of the 50 most influential rabbis in America, Wolfe said the reasons for remembering those who died in the Holocaust are twofold.

"Firstly, those who died deserve to be remembered. Secondly, we hope the memory will spur people to goodness, to action," Wolfe said. "In places in the world where things like this threaten people, we have a responsibility to take action."

The ceremony concluded with a blessing by Cantor Joseph Gole of Sinai Temple in the Grove of the Righteous Rescuers.

The quilts will be on display at the memorial park before making a tour to local schools and other venues open to the public.

"Everyone who died (in the Holocaust) lived. They all had families. They all had joys and sorrows and then it was taken away," Wolfe said. "Left behind was a memory, a slight echo of a name. Even if we only remember a name, that is a powerful tribute."


Jewish Journal

Survivors' stories create fabric of Shoah quilt

By Rachel Heller

Ann Spicer, Holocaust survivor

Twelve months after her concentration camp was liberated, Ann Spicer, newly married, was leaving Germany for good. It was May 21, 1946. Her husband's little brother was the first to board the train in Stuttgart that would take the makeshift family to the first ship out of Hamburg headed toward America.

Philip, 13, flashed a grin as he climbed into the wooden car, on whose side someone had stuck a paper sign: "America, here we come." Spicer's husband snapped a photograph.

"We didn't even know where we were going," Spicer recalled recently. "We knew we were going to America. It was the first time I was on a ship, going to a land that I didn't know anything about."

Spicer's experience is not unique among the more than 100,000 Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States after the war. But she has chosen to share her memories this year in a unique way -- by contributing this photograph to a "Shoah Quilt" project put together by Mount Sinai Memorial Parks in honor of Yom HaShoah.

Mount Sinai's staff last year asked members of the L.A. Jewish community to create personalized squares for a quilt that would memorialize the Holocaust, its victims and its survivors.

"We wanted to do a quilt, similar to the AIDS Quilt, to commemorate the Shoah on the 60th anniversary of Israel," said Len Lawrence, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries. "It would be a quilt of hope, looking forward, not of misery."

They sent out blank pieces of fabric to those who answered a series of ads soliciting contributions, with few guiding instructions.

"We said, 'Commemorate who you want, the way you want,'" Lawrence said. "It's a very personal commemoration of people, places or things. It was really up to the individuals."

As submissions began to pour in, Mount Sinai employees realized the project addressed a widespread need for a venue in which to honor names and faces that might otherwise go unknown. Word of mouth carried news of the project across the country. Contributions also came from Canada, Israel and England. So many squares were submitted -- an "overwhelming" total of 156, Lawrence said -- that they had to assemble three quilts.

Contributor Wendy Brogin of Sherman Oaks said she was thankful for the chance to tell the story of how the Holocaust affected her life.

Both her father's and mother's families were decimated in concentration camps, but they each found a way to survive, she said. Her father was able to escape Germany through an arrangement to teach tailoring on the Isle of Man.

"The Holocaust almost toppled our whole family, but we survived," said Brogin, who translated that notion into an embroidered family tree with a chop mark at the base. She, her husband and their three children all helped sew their relatives' names onto the tree.

"This was an opportunity to make a statement," Brogin said of the Shoah Quilt. "My biggest concern is are my children going to know about it? Are their children going to know about it? I wanted to spread the message that this happened and that it must never happen again, so it's not repeated and it's not refuted."

Preserving the legacy of the Holocaust ensures that future generations of Jews will know the value of their heritage, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple told a packed Kamenir Chapel at Mount Sinai Simi Valley on May 4, before unveiling the quilts to a crowd of contributors, their families and guests. But simply recalling the names of those who perished is also a "holy act" in itself, he said.

"Because we remember them as people who died, we often forget that they were people who lived. Even if we remember only a name, that is a powerful tribute."

Wolpe encouraged attendees to read aloud the names printed on the panels of fabric, stitched in thread, written in marker and surrounded uniquely in each piece by buttons, sequins, tallit strings, a crocheted piece of lace or a Star of David made of popsicle sticks. One square features a burning candle; another, train tracks; one has a dove with an olive branch; and near the blue silk border of the third quilt, a photo transfer of Ann Spicer and her husband, Edward, with the caption: "From martyrdom to freedom."

Spicer was born in Radom, Poland, and was a teenager when the Nazis came to her town. She watched her family of six unravel through a series of ghettos and concentration camps in Poland and Germany.

"They took away everything from us -- the light, the food, the way of being with families," she recalled. "There were horrors that happened overnight."

After surviving hard labor, hunger and disease at Auschwitz, separated from her parents and siblings, Spicer was put on a train to a camp in northern Germany where she was liberated in 1945.

She was liberated by four young American soldiers. Ironically, the first thing they asked her for was soap so they could wash up. "I looked at them, and I became hysterical, because I hadn't seen soap in six years," she said. "You suddenly become free, and you don't know what to do with that freedom. I had no money, no clothing, and nobody left. But somehow, we managed."

Spicer met her husband in Stuttgart, where she had stayed on to work for UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency). They were married in December, and with her little brother-in-law the following May, they sailed to the U.S. to build a new life.

"When I heard about this project, I thought it was a beautiful idea," said Spicer, a Westwood resident who in the 1960s helped found the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. "Our time is very short. I try to pack in as much information as I can that will stay with somebody, and they will say, 'I knew this person.' That's the essence -- that somebody can live on to tell the story."

Assembling the vast collection of memories was no easy task, said Marlene Alonge, who designed the quilts.

Alonge, whose husband, Joel, is director of sales for Mount Sinai's Hollywood Hills site, said she appreciated the chance to learn more about the Holocaust through other peoples' lives.

"Doing this project, I felt privileged. I felt like I was on the front line, getting all these stories told," she said. "When you see someone pouring out their emotions in an art form like this, it's really remarkable."

Lawrence said he hopes the Shoah Quilt project can become a teaching tool for children across the city, and he wants to take the quilts on a national tour to spread the message further.

"Take a 15-, 16-year-old today -- how much contact do they have with survivors, unless one happens to be in their family?" he asked.

Erin Zucker, 15, said she feels lucky to have that connection.

The high school sophomore at the Center for Early Jewish Education in Thousand Oaks made a quilt square featuring a candle and a flame, and the word, "Remember."

The subject is "so important to me; it's part of my life," Zucker said.

Her inspiration to take part in the project was her grandfather, Michael Mark, a survivor who told Zucker stories of his experiences during the Holocaust.

"Everything he went through means a lot to me. Just by looking at him, you wouldn't think he would have the strength to pull through something like that," she said, describing her grandfather as a quiet, generous man who likes to tell jokes.

Of the quilt, she said, "he's really happy that I did it."