Leiby Guttman was just five-years-old when he died at Auschwitz in 1944. Israel Vaisman was seven, when he perished at Kamenets Podolsk in the Ukraine, in 1941 and Isaak Vaisberg was only eight when he died at Tomashpol, also in Ukraine, in 1941. On Sunday, Yom Hashoah, their lives were remembered, via the lighting of yellow candles — in another country and by another generation.
“I lit three candles with my children,” explained Samantha Cohen, from Finchley, north London. “We talked about the Holocaust in simple terms for the kids to understand as this was the first time my eight and seven year old had heard about it from me.”
Ms Cohen was taking part in a new UK initiative to remember Holocaust victims who had no one left to mourn them.
The organisers of the Yellow Candle Project said they had been “overwhelmed” by the response to the project, and Ms Cohen, whose family lit the candles in memory of Leiby, Isaak and Israel, added:
“This is important to me personally as my uncle, late mother and grandmother escaped Germany in 1939. If they hadn’t, they would have perished with many of my grandmother’s family who did not manage to leave. I needed to try and explain this to my children.”
The project, which has been operating in America since 1981, organises the lighting of yahrzeit memorial candles. The yellow colour relates to the stars which the Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis and each candle comes in a bag with a name in it. The names of the victims are taken from Yad Vashem.
It was brought to the UK by Masorti Judaism, and Paul Harris, a member of New North London Synagogue, said that the response had been “amazing”. Around 3,500 candles were handed out.
“It has brought people alive, and let others remember then as individuals,” he said. “It can be hard to do that as it’s so overwhelming when people talk of six million deaths.”
Debra Virchis, who is also a member of New North London Synagogue explained: “We lit the candle as our family were lucky and have no one to remember and so it reminds us how lucky we are.”
Her family remembered Hugo Mayer (1864-1942) who was born in Germany and lived there with his wife, Karoline, and three children. Hugo died of illness on January 1st 1942 at the Noe internment camp in France. Two years later his wife was murdered in Auschwitz.
Henya Eidelhoch was killed at Birkenau, aged five. Her short life was remembered by Grace Loncraine, a 27-year-old lawyer from London.
“I lit a candle for Henya because she deserves to be remembered in her own right; not just as a statistic from the horror she was caught up in, but must have barely understood,” Ms Loncraine said. “As someone who is not Jewish, I come to the Holocaust by way of cinema and remembrance ceremonies. Thinking about Henya, what she might have been like, was for me a new and powerful way of connecting with that past.”
Raymond Simonson, the CEO of JW3, said he had lit a candle with his six-year-old daughter, and given out 300 candles via the community centre.
Mr Simonson added that “friends, family and colleagues from across the whole community” had shown interest, “from the most secular and least involved to Orthodox synagogue-goers and Reform Jews.
“You’re not asking a big commitment of people. You’re saying, ‘take a candle, light it, remember the name of someone who maybe doesn’t have any family left to remember them.’”