Lessons from the past: McAllen marks Holocaust Remembrance Day with program, exhibit

Many gathered at the McAllen Public Library during a Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony on Thursday May 23, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — Swaying his head from side to side, Tim Lorsch maneuvered his hands to tell the story of his ancestors through a century-old violin inherited through family to an audience that nearly filled the auditorium to full capacity.

Switching in between instruments, he weaved in his family anecdotes of Jews enduring the hardships of anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. Lorsch is the son of Jews who left Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and performed “The Suitcase.” The performance was inspired by the retrieval of a “family artifact” in 2016 that was owned by his great-uncle, who carried the suitcase with him through a concentration camp.

Temple Emanuel, a McAllen synagogue, and the city of McAllen hosted the Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony at the McAllen Public Library Auditorium. City officials proclaimed Thursday as Holocaust Remembrance Day in McAllen, according to a press release.

Although he did not have to face as much discrimination for his identity as his family did in Nazi Germany, the recent surge of anti-semitic violence has worried him. Terrorism attacks against Jews nationally and across the world shows the need to remember this time in history, he said.

“As a child, I was shielded from the pain and loss my parents and grandparents had endured as a result of anti-semitism, though I certainly felt its undercurrent.” he said.

His performance was a way to connect to his family who made sacrifices to give him a better life, he said.

“I’ve had this wonderful life of making music, and I always wanted to create a work to honor my parents,” Lorsch said.

Titling the first piece as “assimilation,” it became a major theme for his performance.

He detailed the safety, success and comfort Jews received in Germany in the early 1900s and how quickly it turned to an atmosphere of hate and violence with political shifts.

Some audience members tapped their hands to the rhythm of the music, while others sat more solemnly.

Identity became another theme in his performance, which for many first-generation Americans is a source of contention and contemplation.

His grandfather, who received the Iron Cross for his service in the Great War, thought of himself as German first, and Jewish second. This did not stop the discrimination and violence endured by German Jews in the 1930s, he said. Stripped of civic rights and humanity through laws passed by the state, mob violence became more prevalent against Jews and synagogues.

“Their sense of being German, like any other did not protect them for long from this terror,” he said.

Other points in the presentation also seemed to tie to current issues in the nation.

He relayed the historical fear of immigrants being seen as “spies” or would be a drain on the state. Foreign agencies would sometimes only take in “just the children,” separating families.

“German Jewish parents were put in the position, where the best thing to do to ensure the safety of their child was to put them on a train by themselves, and send them to a foreign country to live among strangers,” Lorsch said.

His family was among thousands to do so.

“My mother and her sister were very fortunate to be reunited with both their parents again,” he said.

Returning to the idea of assimilation, he brought in the current issue of why it matters today.

He also spoke of the “hate speech” and “hate crimes” rising in the current political and social environment.

“Will I be still be seen as a true American, or only as much as my parents and grandparents were seen as true Germans?” Lorsch said, describing a fear many Jewish Americans may feel.

Lamar Academy junior Trevor Galloso along with fellow Temple Emanuel member Aaron Tawil lit the first of six candles, each preceded by a prayer led by community leaders. Requests were made for the children, mothers, fathers, elders, fighters and the righteous.

The reception displayed books and veterans who liberated the concentration and death camps during World War II. Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission outreach coordinator Christian Acevedo said the event could help audiences have a connection to history. The exhibit was brought to McAllen from Austin.

Galloso worked with the city and his local temple to bring the exhibit to McAllen. He said he wanted to start a serious discussion with teenagers and to stress the importance of learning from the past.

“We see hate crimes all over … there’s shootings in mosques or synagogues,” he said.

The “one-man show” showed the importance of perseverance.

“My family, like the suitcase, has survived,” Lorsch said.