By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY —Six years after World War II ended, on April 12, 1951, while the world was still aghast at the discoveries of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and Eastern Europe, and a newly independent Israel was struggling to establish itself, the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) proclaimed Yom Ha’ Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) to be commemorated annually on the 27th of Nisan. This year, Yom Ha’Shoah was to be commemorated on May 4.
A few weeks earlier, on April 18, a day-long Holocaust Remembrance Day was held at Rockhurst University, sponsored by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education and the university.
That morning, students, faculty, staff and members of the Kansas City community began reading aloud the names of all those murdered by the Nazis, including 152 Jesuits, from a podium in front of Massman Hall near Kinerk Commons, where all passersby could hear.
At 2:30 in the afternoon, a prayer service began in the Finucane Jesuit Center, lower level of Greenlease Library. Men, women and children of all ages, and different faiths, including Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and Jews joined to remember the victims of the Nazis. Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., of the Kansas City –St. Joseph Diocese attended.
Two anti-Nazi Jesuit publications, the German Stimmen der Zeit (“Voice of the Times”) and the French Cahiers du Temoignage Chretien (“Christian Witness”), were highlighted as the service got underway.
The German publication, based in Munich, was shut down in 1941 by eight Gestapo agents because the academic journal had fervently criticized the National Socialist German Workers Party, Nazi for short, for its anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic-Christian ideology for nearly a decade. Father Alfred Delp, S.J., its editor, later became involved in the German Resistance, was arrested and executed in 1945.
The Amitiés Chrétiennes organization operated out of Lyon, France to secure hiding places for Jewish children. Among its members was the Jesuit Pierre Chaillet, a publisher of Cahiers du Temoignage Chretien, which castigated the Nazis as anti-Christian and for their violence against the Jews. Father Chaillet found ways to infiltrate the concentration camps and smuggle Jewish children to safety, and gave food, shelter and legal aid to Jews to help preserve their belongings. He was arrested a number of times but, by swallowing incriminating documents, secured his release. He died in 1972.
Early in 2006, Andy Julo, a Rockhurst University freshman, suggested a remembrance service to campus minister Bill Kreige as a way of bringing together Kansas City area Catholic and Jewish communities. Later that spring the first Yom Ha’Shoah service was held on the campus. One year later, during the Yom Ha’Shoah service, a bronze plaque engraved with the names of 152 Jesuits who died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, was blessed and dedicated. The plaque which hangs on the east patio wall of the Finucane Jesuit Center, was a gift of then-Rockhurst Regent Eliot Berkeley and his wife Marcia, who were members of the New Reformed Temple in Kansas City.
The Jesuits’ names were found in the book, “The Jesuits and the Third Reich,” by Father Vincent Lapomarda, S.J., associate professor of history at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., and coordinator of its Holocaust Museum. The names on the plaque are categorized: those who were executed, those who died in captivity of or as a result of it, and those who died in concentration camps. The first two include the nationalities of the Jesuits and the third denotes the name of the concentration camp where each died.
Eliot Berkeley died in 2012.
As Intercessory Prayers began, six students standing near a table in the entrance way hefted large rocks. In between each intercessory prayer, a student bearing a stone symbolizing 1 million Jews, marched soberly toward a circular table in the center of the room on which were a number of slim, lit tapers. The stones were placed on the floor around the table.
“Six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust … More than one million Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis … Recent hate crimes in the United States, including the shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom, bear witness to the insidious and persistent nature of ethnic hatred… For their eternal shelter, we pray, ‘God ever faithful, God ever merciful, God of your people, hear our prayer.’”
Junior Michael Lydon-Lorson said later, “Being asked to participate in the Yom Ha’Shoah prayer service was a huge honor for me … placing a rock around the candles to memorialize those lives lost in the Holocaust. Although I don’t know much about the Jewish faith, the prayer service served as a great way to join in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the community who use this day as a way to remember an important part of the past.”
Bill Kriege commented, “The use of stones, as opposed to flowers (which wither and die) or candles (which blow out), show the lasting permanence of those who perished in the Shoah.” The stones connect Rockhurst with the past and the future. “Our original buildings are made of limestone excavated during the digging of their foundations. We are built upon the legacy of the Jesuits who have gone before us. Hopefully, our legacy will continue to be built upon the memory of those lived a ‘faith that does justice.’”
The Prayer service included the Ayl Mahlay Rachamim sung by Hazzan Tahl Ben-Yehuda of Congregation Beth Shalom: “O God, Who art full of compassion. Who dwellest on high, grant perfect rest beneath the shelter of Thy divine presence … We beseech Thee, Lord of Compassion, shelter them forevermore under the cover of Thy wings, and let their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life. The Lord is their inheritance; May they rest in peace. And let us say, Amen.”
Rockhurst University’s choir and Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy’s choir featuring cantor Rabbi Jeffrey Shron of Kehilath Israel Synagogue, performed several selections also.
Hazzan Ben-Yehuda said, “To be able to recognize what the Jesuits did in protecting and helping save some of the Jewish people is a moving experience and a great honor! It’s easy for me to pray with those who believe in God. It will be a perfect day when the whole world recognizes the supremacy of God and the image of the days of the Messiah. The Messiah is not extrinsic. He’s counting down the days.”
Lydon-Lorson said, “At Rockhurst we learn to find God in all things and become contemplatives in action — this prayer service served as an outstanding way to put our Ignatian spirituality into action by joining other faith traditions to remember the lives lost in the Holocaust.”