HARTFORD — Ray Gawendo remembers the Holocaust‘s terror.
She remembers when a Nazi soldier shot her husband. She remembers being pried from her home and sent to a concentration camp in Estonia. She remembers watching thousands of her peers die. And after World War II ended, she remembers learning that her entire family, except for one cousin, had been murdered.
For decades she was silent about those memories. But on Friday Gawendo, 95, looked out at more than 100 people gathered at The State Capital and told them her heart wrenching story of freedom at the 32nd annual State of Connecticut Holocaust Commemoration.
“I had to make my own life over again from scratch,” she said in a weak voice. “Until 2006 I had only told this story to my second husband.”
But she fears genocide and violence are not dead and said sharing her story is one way to prevent something like the Holocaust from happening again.
“The idea holds true, that together we stand and divided we fall,” Gawendo, of Norwich, said.
By setting aside our differences, she said we can all become stronger and the “Holocaust can be put to rest.”
The Rev. Michael Belt, of St. James Episcopal Church in New London, said hearing stories like Gawendo’s is what the Day of Rememberance, or Yom Hashoah, is all about.
“Every one of us needs to keep these memories alive so that this aspect of our history does not repeat itself,” he said.
Evert Gawendo, chair of the Holocaust commemoration and son of the keynote speaker, urged his Jewish brothers and sisters to not remain silent about the Holocaust tragedy.
“We have to speak out and raise our voices to honor our parents,” he said, adding that this year’s commemoration theme was Stories of Freedom.
At the event teachers and students from five Connecticut schools read notes from students about Jewish icons that taught lessons of perserverance, resilience, remembrance, circumstance and community.
Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams explained that the essays were read so that people would realize the things they have at their fingertips that they take for granted. A “normal life,” he said, is a precious gift that people need to be reminded of sometimes.
Rabbi Phillip Lazowski, chaplain of the senate, agreed with Williams and urged the crowd to “never forget to remember.”
“It’s a day not only to remember, but to resolve that this should never happen again,” said Rabbi Carl Astor, of Congregational Beth El in New London.
An official statement signed by Gov. M Jodi Rell was read at the event encouraging residents to “confront hate whenever and wherever it occurs.”