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Farmington Hills — The annual Yom HaShoah remembrance has long been an opportunity to impress upon younger generations the lessons of the Holocaust, the atrocities endured and the strength of a people.

Sunday's commemoration at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, marking 70 years since the liberation of the concentration camps in World War II, looked more toward the oldest among the community. For people like Rabbi Aaron Bergman, this year's ceremony was a time to reflect on the loss of a great resource.

"Part of what is happening this year is a recognition that the survivor generation is really (dwindling)," he said. "I've done four funerals for survivors in the last three weeks ... just the last three weeks."

A crowd of roughly 500 crammed into the center's auditorium Sunday for the remembrance ceremony. It featured a mixture of emotions during the hour-long program: survivor's pride, the sorrow of immeasurable loss, patriotism and even defiance.

At the heart of the event was a candle-lighting ceremony with each of nine flames representing the memory of a specific group of people.

Eva Kraus, speaking on behalf of the Children of Holocaust Survivors Association of Michigan, talked of how her mother survived Auschwitz, and her father survived forced labor at the hands of Axis powers.

"They had seven grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren," she said. "That is the best revenge."

But Kraus' father is another of the survivor generation who has recently passed away. For those they leave behind, it brings a sense of urgency.

"We're living in an era right now when the number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing within our midst," said Gary Karp, president of the Holocaust Memorial Center's board of directors. "We still have a unique opportunity to hear their first-hand accounts of courage, valor and perseverance. Our generation is fortunate enough to be able to hear that first hand. ...

"Tomorrow we won't have as many survivors. ... That's why it's critical today to pass on the message ... so that it doesn't fall simply to the annals of history."

Nelson Hersch, an orthodontist who attends the memorial service every year, said the importance of remembrance cannot be overstated. "If we don't learn from our history, we're destined to repeat it," he said.

Despite the solemn nature of the subject, many approached the day with a sense of positivity.

"This is one of the happiest sad days on the calendar, because we're reclaiming something that was so devastating," Bergman said. "It was devastating, but here we are — able to (commemorate) it."

JLynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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