Andrew Hall spent the first six months of his life hiding from the Nazis with his mother, father and older brother, Allan.
Weighing less than 2 pounds at birth, Hall, who was born Sept. 16, 1944, on a coal-filled cellar floor of an apartment building in Warsaw, wasn’t given much of a chance to survive.
But somehow, the tiny infant, who was taken through the Polish sewer system from Warsaw to Krakow only a month after he was born, survived. His parents and brother also made it through the Holocaust, but most of his extended family perished.
Now, as one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of more than six million Jews, Hall, who is chairman of the board of Miami Beach’s Holocaust Memorial, shares the horror of the Holocaust so younger generations can learn from the past.
“As we lose more and more survivors every year, it becomes even more important that we share our stories,” Hall said.
Hall, now a South Florida attorney who specializes in holding governments accountable for sponsoring acts of terrorism, spoke Sunday night as 600 people gathered at the Holocaust Memorial to mark Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The commemoration continues Monday.
The memorial, dedicated in 1990, is a constant reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust, with an outstretched arm tattooed with a number from Auschwitz with human figures clinging to the hand and to each other.
With the bronze sculpture in the background, survivors, children and dignitaries gathered Sunday night to remember. The solemn ceremony, which included a candlight vigil, began with Wendy Reiss Rothfield, chairwoman of the 2014 Yom Hashoah event, pointing to the sculpture behind her.
“This Holocaust memorial serves as the final resting place for all of those who were so ruthlessly murdered," she said. "We want our young people to learn and absorb the lessons of the Holocaust not only for the past but for our future.”
The Children's Choir of the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center sang three songs about peace, love and unity.
“It was an honor to sing for the people who survived the Holocaust,” said Rachel Yavner, 9.
Brian Bilzin, chairman of the board for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said recognizing anti-Semitism is especially important in light of a recent shooting that left three people dead earlier this month at Jewish centers in the Kansas City, Kansas, area.
“We need to remember what can happen if we are not vigilant,” he said.
A recent report released by the Anti-Defamation League showed the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2013 decreased from the previous year, but there will some troubling reports in South Florida.
“The community as a whole needs to work together to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself,” Bilzin said.
Among the speakers Sunday: 91-year-old Howard Rosen.
Nearly 68 years ago, Rosen was a soldier in the U.S. Army when his battalion was tasked with guarding prisoners during the Nuremberg Trials.
The Nazi trials, held in Nuremberg, began in 1945 and lasted until October 1946.
“Our job was to maintain the order of the prisoners,” he said.
The retired dentist painted the scene of the courtroom with the justices from United States, Soviet Union, France and England sitting on an elevated platform in the front of the room. The 10 prisoners dressed in Third Reich uniforms sat “disinterested” as the trial proceeded. He said there were dozens of witnesses from concentration camps “relating the horrors they suffered.”
Still fresh in his mind: one of the prisoners they were guarding managed to get a Cyanide tablet and kill himself before he could be hanged. The rest of the prisoners were sentenced to be hanged within two days of the end of the trial.
Rosen, who lives in Aventura with his wife, Shirley, said that even though the war and the trials took place more than six decades ago, the toll still has lasting effects.
“It’s critically important that we learn from this momentous time in our history,” he said.