He was not alone in his impulse. The need to share their stories is basic for many survivors of the Holocaust, and Shnaper — the longtime president of the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Philadelphia — will be just one of the survivors speaking to students during the city's Annual Memorial Ceremony for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs on Sunday, April 15. The ceremony begins at 1 p.m. at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, at the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs in Philadelphia.
The theme of this year's memorial is "The Urgency of Holocaust Remembrance in the Madness of Our Age." The event 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.
Born in Poland, the nearly 90-year-old Shnaper was one of fewer than 100 survivors out of 3,500 prisoners at the Klooga concentration camp in Estonia, the last he suffered through.
Shnaper, who was then only in his 20s, escaped the camp with his cousin just as German soldiers gunned down their fellow Jews and burned their bodies on wooden pyres. The two were rescued when the Soviet Army liberated the area.
For Shnaper, surviving the Nazi extermination campaign is intimately tied in his mind to the survival of Israel, which has gotten more urgent in today's global climate. Israel has fallen out of favor with much of Europe, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatens to wipe Israel off the map. "Not one country was protesting his word," noted Shnaper.
And the Jewish state has had to continually fight for its existence, he said, from the War of Independence to the Six-Day War, and right up to last summer's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. He added that sharing Holocaust lessons with future generations is what will keep them vigilant in protecting Israel and its people for years to come.
"This is what we still have to do," he said. "The children and grandchildren have to help us — to stay and watch."
When Shnaper came to Philadelphia in 1949, he was part of the effort to build a monument to the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Survivors living in Philadelphia wound up collecting $3,000 among themselves, then petitioned people directly to reach a goal of $50,000. The group managed to find a location near Logan Square, and the sculpture by Nathan Rapoport was unveiled on April 26, 1964.
Plans are currently in the works to add a garden, a plaza and columns to the sculpture space.
Shnaper said that the monument was not just about remembrance, but a tool to teach others about the Shoah. "The first thing," he said, "is we want to bring young people" to the memorial service.
The need to impart these stories is crucial, because many survivors are succumbing to old age. According to Shnaper, the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Philadelphia now numbers 350 members, down from a starting point of 1,000 in 1952. And for more than 10 years, social workers from the Jewish Family and Children's Service have been helping survivors with such issues as medical care and daily living chores.
As for himself, Shnaper tries to keep involved with several Jewish causes. "I feel I do my part," he said. "I'm a very stubborn guy."