When Rabbi George Gittleman visits the Jewish graves at Santa Rosa Memorial Park, he almost always visits the marker for Lillian Judd.
When he leaves, without fail, he stops at the ritual washing fountain that stands at the center of a memorial honoring Holocaust survivors, including Judd, who survived imprisonment in one of Nazi Germany’s most notorious death camps. She went on to be an author and educator, teaching legions of Sonoma County school children about the horrors of the Holocaust.
Gittleman was close with Judd, accompanying her on many trips, and he joked Sunday afternoon, he was a quarterly guest at her home over a span of two decades for a shared meal of mushroom omelets.
So his trip to the cemetery last month, following news that the stone fountain had been toppled and broken, was different.
“The sight of the smashed fountain broke my heart,” said Gittleman, leader of the Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa. “Whether it was a random act of violence or a hate crime, it was a violation of our sacred space and Lillian’s legacy.”
At the park on Sunday, Gittleman weaved the story of his frustration ‒ a raging pandemic, outcry over racial injustice, a destroyed memorial honoring a Holocaust survivor ‒ with Judd’s lifelong message about transforming hate into love, instilling a spiritual resonance to a multi-faith ceremony that re-dedicated the newly rebuilt fountain.
Dennis Judd, Lillian’s son, was master of ceremonies, and one faith leader after another took their introduction, lowered their facial coverings under the blazing July sun and spoke with verve about the need for spiritual unity to defy an act of ignorance.
Afterward, the two dozen attendees, all careful to maintain physical distance, inspected the vibrant blue patchwork that now binds the once-broken stone, a powerful symbol of healing.
“To see this many different religious leaders come here, and so many more who have responded, it’s been amazing for me,” Judd said. “It’s way beyond what I expected.”
As a teenager in her home country of Czechoslovakia, Lillian Judd was loaded up with her Jewish family in the cattle cars of a train, passing through Poland en route to Auschwitz, the extermination camp where at least 1.1 million prisoners died. The Jewish people on board weren’t allowed to get out at the stops, but they could peer through the wooden slats.
At one stop, Dennis Judd said, recalling his mother’s stories, there were people smiling, making slicing motions with their fingers at their throats.
At another, Lillian Judd saw people with tears in their eyes.
“She realized there’s good in each society, and that’s what she tried to focus on,” Dennis Judd said.
The memorial adjacent the fountain includes a mosaic, commissioned by Judd after his mother’s 2016 death. It names her 12 family members ‒ including her father, mother and two sisters ‒ who were killed killed during Adolf Hitler’s campaign against the Jewish people.
Shortly after the the fountain was damaged, Dennis Judd set up a Go Fund Me fundraiser, seeking $30,000 to help with the repair. With $13,000 raised so far, the campaign will put the rest toward support lectures from survivors of the Holocaust and genocide, and to help make Lillian Judd’s book, “From Nightmare to Freedom – Healing After the Holocaust” free to students, teachers and libraries.
The Santa Rosa Police Department investigation of the damaged memorial has stalled, with no other leads to go on, according to Sgt. Brandon Matthies. The case remains open pending new information.
Dennis Judd on Sunday said the damage was done, whether a hate crime or unwitting vandalism.
“It happened,” he said. “I wanted to see if we could get the community to get involved. That would be very powerful. That would be something special.”
Judd credited Interfaith Council of Sonoma County Chair David Hoffman as a driving force in gathering religious leaders from across the region. On Sunday, Hoffman called bigotry of the type that would damage such memorials a “preeminent spiritual and moral challenge.”
The then he issued a clarion call to confront that challenge.
“The inspiration and example of Lillian Judd, who experienced trauma and anguish and excruciating loss beyond what most of us can imagine, and who drew from that the lesson that we must resist falling into hatred is an absolutely transcendent and inspiring example for all of us,” Hoffman said. “I hope we find a way to take that lesson to heart.”