"Yom HaShoah:" Holocaust Remembrance Day  
Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow addresses the crowd at the Shaarey Tefilla synagogue Sunday, May 5, 2024. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

Tibor Klopfer and his daughter Liz Wertz sat on the front row at the Shaarey Tefilla synagogue among a congregation of a little under 100 people Sunday to take part in Yom HaShoah. 

“We’re here to participate in the ceremony and we’ll be lighting one of the six candles to commemorate the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust,” Klopfer said.  

“Yom HaShoah” translates to Holocaust Remembrance Day in Hebrew.  

Klopfer’s parents were Holocaust survivors.  

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They met after World War II after both being imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp in the 1940s.  

“My parents didn’t talk about it very much when I was young,” Klopfer said. 

“Yom HaShoah:” Holocaust Remembrance Day  

"Yom HaShoah:" Holocaust Remembrance Day  
(Left) Piroska and Klopfer’s maternal grandmother, Aranka Csillag (right) circa 1943/1944. This is the last photo their family had of them before they were taken away to Auschwitz and killed in July of 1944. (Photo/provided by Tibor Klopfer)

“My father didn’t talk about it at all. Literally, the only thing I ever heard him say about the holocaust, I was in first or second grade. He had tattooed numbers on his left arm from Auschwitz and I asked him what those were. He said the Nazis did that in Hungarian.” 

After his father passed away right before Klopfer went off to college, Klopfer’s mother told him that his father had been married before the war and that his father’s first wife and two young daughters were murdered in Auschwitz. 

“My mother talked about it a little bit more when I was young,” Klopfer said. “She’d tell me stories about playing with relatives and friends in Hungary growing up. Then when I’d ask, well, where is that aunt or cousin and why don’t I know them, she would get a sad look on her face.” 

“What happened in Hungary is that the able-bodied young men were first taken away to slave labor battalions,” Klopfer said. “My mother’s brothers were taken away, except for her youngest brother who was too young. They started at age 18.” 

Auschwitz concentration camp

"Yom HaShoah:" Holocaust Remembrance Day  
The Csillag family photo in January of 1937. This was Klopfer’s maternal grandparents’ 25th wedding anniversary. His young aunt, Piroska is the child in the front row. Margit Csillag, Klopfer’s mother, is in the front row on the right at age 22. (Photo/Provided by Tibor Klopfer)

Klopfer’s mother was working in a relative’s store out in the countryside until March of 1944 when Nazi Germany took over the Hungarian government led by the Arrow Cross Party, a far-right Hungarian ultranationalist party.  

Within six weeks of the Nazi takeover, the Hungarian government started sending all Jews to Auschwitz.  

July 7, 1944, Klopfer’s mother boarded a train and was sent to Auschwitz.  

She was there for a little over a month doing hard labor and living in barracks.  

“They took all of her clothes except for her shoes. She got to keep her shoes, which was a big benefit for staying alive,” Klopfer said. “She was then selected to work at a factory camp in August that was in a city on the border between Poland and Germany.”  

Surviving the Holocaust

According to Klopfer, his mother worked 12-hour shifts making aircraft radios for the Luftwaffee. By February 1945, The Soviet troops were on their way, and the war was near ending.  

The Germans evacuated the camp. 

In the middle of winter, his mother was on a forced march, partially by foot and partially on trains, before ending up at Bergen Belson, a concentration camp outside of Hanover, Germany in March of 1945.  

Four weeks later, that camp was liberated by British and Canadian troops. 

Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow said that someone spray painted the Nazi symbol on the grounds of their synagogue in July 2018. (Photo/provided by Rabbi Sendrow)

In the Yom HaShoah ceremony, Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow said they light six memorial candles. Like many other religions, Judaism uses candles in their death and mourning rituals.  

He does not have words for the emotions felt except deep sadness, horror and anger.  

“My grandfather’s family did not come to America when he did in the early 1900s. They were wiped out. Two thirds of the Jews in Europe were slaughtered. That’s six out of nine million,” Sendrow said. 

This observance commemorates the day that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began in Poland during the Holocaust. A group of Jews were crowded into a small area in Warsaw, with more and more people being added and less and less space being provided. 

‘It gave us Auschwitz’

Tibor Klopfer (right) and his daughter Liz Wertz (left) inside the Shaarey Tefilla synagogue Sunday, May 5, 2024. (Photo/Jade Jackson)

“People were killed by disease and unsanitary conditions as well as by the Nazis,” Sendrow said. “They were unarmed. To be caught outside the ghetto meant to be shot, and they had to travel an average of seven miles away from the ghetto and then back again to acquire from the underground a single firearm.”  

The group of people managed to put together enough weapons to fight back against the Nazi army, which took the army three weeks to defeat. 

Even with everything going on in the world now, Sendrow said having the focus on remembering those lost and those who lived is a reminder to not repeat history. 

“Germany was the most civilized, sophisticated country in Europe. It gave us Beethoven and Mozart and it gave us Auschwitz.”  

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at (317) 762-7853 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON.