Governments played a role in the Holocaust.
Governments played a role in stopping it.
Now, governments, even in small towns, many years and thousands of miles away, can play a role in seeing that the genocide of 6 million innocent people is not forgotten.
That is important to 140 people who came inside on one of Hilton Head Island's first beautiful spring days last Sunday. They gathered for a somber Holocaust memorial service of music and readings at Congregation Beth Yam.
One reader was Allen Kupfer, 89, of Sun City Hilton Head. He was left orphaned by the Holocaust and lost 140 family members.
As a teenager, he saw his grandmother being shot because she could not keep up on a forced march. As part of the service, Kupfer called out the names of Nazi concentration camps and ghettos. As part of his daily life, he tells young people not to hate.
"We will never eliminate hatred and prejudice," he told me, "but by being vigilant, we can make a difference. If I see my neighbor acting odd, I should act, not say, 'It's their problem,' because as we keep finding, their problem can become our problem."
Sophie Miklos of Hilton Head, who survived a concentration camp, read her poem, "A Black Crow." She has put her experiences into three books and visual arts, and now struggles with the new hurt of being a widow. Her poem ends:
"Sixty-eight years after the worst genocide,
I am thirsty for some calm and peace of mind.
If I have to carry my memories of the Holocaust to my grave,
I want to come back as a happy swan singing and feeling safe."
For Rabbi Brad L. Bloom, it is significant that those who witnessed the Holocaust can feel safe in this "land of pleasant living."
And to him it is historic that the Town Council of Hilton Head Island proclaimed this week "Days of Remembrance."
Mayor Drew Laughlin stood in the temple and read the proclamation. It reflects on "the moral responsibilities of individuals, societies and governments" to "remain vigilant against hatred, persecution and tyranny."
Survivors of the Holocaust and their relatives, some now stooped by time, then came forward to accept the framed proclamation from the mayor.
"These people lived in a country where the government turned against its citizens," Bloom said later. "But in this drama called history, America is on our side. Jewish people have lived and sojourned in places where it was the opposite. We're grateful to the town. This shows that our local government respects diversity, acknowledges the Jewish community and realizes that this community has a history.
"It says, 'Here, dear friends, we honor and respect you for what you've been through, and we're glad to have you on our shores."