They came on Sunday to remember, and to renew their commitment to preventing another Holocaust.
About 200 people attended the annual Jewish commemoration of the Holocaust held at The Friedman Center in Santa Rosa. Among them were six survivors who bore witness to the atrocities.
The six each lighted a candle to remember the six million Jews killed under Nazi persecution, and also to honor those who helped hide and evacuate Jews during World War II. A seventh candle was lighted for the victims of all genocides.
The horrors of the Holocaust were vividly recreated by author and survivor Susanne Batzdorff, whose fictional piece "Free at Last" was read as the centerpiece of the service.
Batzdorff, 88, of Santa Rosa, based her drama on interviews with five Sonoma County Holocaust survivors. The performance was intended, in part, to help educate the younger generations.
"We are very much hoping to share the story with our grandchildren," Batzdorff said. "The oldsters like us aren't going to be around much longer."
Batzdorff escaped Germany in 1939 with her parents, who were both physicians, after Adolf Hitler revoked the rights of Jews to hold medical licenses.
Her drama covered a wide spectrum of the Jewish experience under Nazi domination, chronologically exploring the emotions and everyday horrors of Jews in concentration camps, and the difficulties they faced after being set free hundreds of miles from home and disconnected from families.
Julia Morrison, 14, a freshman at Mario Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, was one of six people who read from Batzdorff's work.
"It helps me remember my past," Morrison said. "I can teach my kids, and their kids so the memory never fades."
Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as Yom Hashoah in Hebrew, was started in 1951.
Geshar Calmenson, who chairs the annual memorial service in Santa Rosa, said it is a way of remembering the past, embracing the future and connecting youth with survivors.
"Our intent is to honor those lost and recommit to making a better world in honor of their sacrifice," he said. "The people in this room are the last generation of witnesses."