Arie Shnaper is a self-described "Holocaust activist." He was one of the founding members of the United Partisan Organization (UPO), a group of Jewish residents in the Vilna ghetto who were committed to meeting three objectives.
"We vowed to obtain arms; to wage acts of sabotage against the Germans whenever possible; and, most importantly, to resist when the Germans began the final liquidation of the ghetto," said Shnaper. "Through these actions, they would see that we were not like sheep to be led to our death."
The ghetto was liquidated by the Germans in 1943. Residents were told that they were to be transported to labor camps and would have a better quality of life. Shnaper and other members of the UPO knew what would really happen and tried to persuade them to resist deportation.
Despite their warnings, most of the 20,000 ghetto residents complied with the relocation edict and were sent to camps in Estonia. The vast majority were eventually killed by the SS.
Those Vilna residents who chose to resist joined the UPO in its fight with the Germans on Sept. 1, 1943. But the Germans blew up the resistance fighters' buildings, enabling the Jewish police to round up the remaining ghetto residents for the transports.
Shnaper and his fellow partisans escaped to the forests through the sewers, and continued their efforts to thwart the Nazis. They helped to destroy power and water infrastructures, freed groups of prisoners from the Kalais labor camp and blew up some German military trains.
Shnaper has devoted his life to bearing witness to these and other Holocaust stories. One of the founding members of the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Philadelphia, he has worked tirelessly with this group and the Federation to erect a Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs — the first public monument to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust to be erected in North America.
On Sunday, April 26, at 1 p.m., this monument will be the site of Philadelphia's largest community memorial program for Holocaust victims, survivors and their friends and families. Participants will learn about "Holocaust Memory in the 21st Century" from keynote speaker Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; hear performances by the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Jewish Day School Stern Center choir, and violinist Philip Kates from the Philadelphia Orchestra; and participate in a memorial candlelighting.
This year's ceremony will also include a special recognition of Holocaust survivors.
Also on April 26, starting at 10:30 a.m., Greater Philadelphia middle- and high school students and their teachers will gather at 2100 Arch St. to meet with Dr. Leon Bass, a witness to the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. At the conclusion of this dialogue, which is sponsored by the "Dorothy Freedman Memorial Conversation With a Survivor" program, the young people will walk together to the Holocaust memorial ceremony and participate in the "March of the Children."
Bus transportation from select sites is available for this annual program, which is sponsored by the Memorial Committee for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. In case of rain, the ceremony will be held at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St. The rain site will be announced on KYW NewsRadio.
Information? Call 215-832-0655.