ALEXANDRIA, Louisiana — "We will remember them." That was said six times by a crowd gathered at Alexandria's new Holocaust memorial on Nov. 10, the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht when Jews in Germany and Austria were the targets of Nazi-inspired attacks.
After a wreath of white flowers was laid on the memorial, six candles were lit as speakers told stories remembering family and others affected by the Holocaust.
"This is an extraordinary community where Jews and non-Jews ... come together to build a safer world," Rabbi Arnold Task said.
The 18-foot obelisk on a triangular downtown tract at the intersection of Second, Fourth and Elliott streets symbolizes life — the meaning of the Jewish word "chai" for 18.
"This monument is more than a tower of granite," Task said. "It is a call to action to all of us to come together to eliminate bigotry, racism and bullying."
The location near Rapides Regional Medical Center also commemorates central Louisiana's involvement in World War II.
"In the early 1940s, with the Louisiana maneuvers held here in Alexandria ... more than half a million troops walked up the same street we did this afternoon," Task said.
The Rev. Chad Partain, a Catholic priest, gave the benediction. "We gather together as a believing community," Partain said. "This memorial is for those who perished in the flames of hatred."
Boy Scouts distributed small black stones. Chris Thacker explained that the stones were another memorial — like altars built by Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Joseph in Biblical times to mark great events.
"We stack stones to remember," Thacker said. "We stack stones because the past lives — lives in us, lives in our children, in our grandchildren."
He said although the memorial is a reminder of the darkness of the Holocaust, it also serves as a reminder of good things.
"We remember also things that can never be taken from us — courage, promise, hope," he said. "Let us stack these stones today."
Speakers offered differing perspectives of the Holocaust — that of a WWII veteran, a young Israeli and a Christian who recently traveled to Israel.
Herbert St. Romaine, a 92-year-old veteran of the National Guard, was a part of the Louisiana military maneuvers in the 1940s.
"We had no idea how lessons learned in these maneuvers would save thousands," he said.
As part of a medical team overseas, he saw truckloads of survivors of Nazi concentration camps at the end of the war. He had seen and treated wounds of all kinds, he said, but nothing prepared him for them.
"Those poor souls were skin and bones," St. Romaine said.
Guy Cohen, director of cultural affairs of the Israel Consulate of the Southwest in Houston, said he had struggled with the idea of remembering something he did not experience.
He said he once posed that question to a Holocaust survivor who called herself "an Auschwitz graduate," and that her answer had stayed with him.
"She said, 'I'm very happy that you cannot remember anything from there (Auschwitz)," Cohen said. "'I assure you I remember every second. ... When I'm gone, your mission is to never forget.'"
He said carrying the memory can feel like a burden and that the Israeli people often feel alone in it. But the ceremonies in Alexandria reminded him he is not alone, he said.
Mayor Jacques Roy spoke of his recent trip to Israel and the lessons it taught him about "aliyah," or ascent. The tenet speaks of physically returning to the Holy Land as well as a spiritual ascent to help the world reach perfection.
Roy said that is both the journey and the goal — to make the world a better place.
"This monument that was christened today reminds me, and I hope you, too, of this journey," he said. "I hope this monument reminds us to do the right thing even when it's not popular."
One goal of the memorial is to educate the area about the Holocaust, Task said. Programs for the ceremony included a sign-up sheet to volunteer for future Holocaust education activities, such as teacher training, student contests, speakers and more.
"Hopefully this will be the starting point for many or the continuation for many," Task said.
Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com