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From a Number to a Name, A Journey to Reclaiming a Name from the Shoa

by Marybeth Barker and Louisa Paushter

The annual CCHRC Holocaust Observance Event took place on April 22 and featured a presentation by Deborah Shelkan Remis. Deborah described her personal journey as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor to being a member of One by One, a group comprised of sons and daughters of the Holocaust and descendants of the Third Reich, and how her extraordinary path led her to produce a multi-media theatrical violin concert.

Deborah shared the story of her passionate and persistent research to reclaim the life of Sara, her father’s first wife, a violin prodigy and one of six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. She speculated that a higher power, perhaps Sara’s spirit, was guiding her to this work. “To share the life of one of six million victims is to return that person’s dignity and soul, and give them back a voice,” said Deborah.

Both Deborah’s father, Cantor Gregor Shelkan, a Holocaust survivor, and her American born mother, the former Bertha Kerson, spoke of Sara when Deborah was a child. Intrigued by these stories, in 2015, Deborah traveled to Latvia to trace her father’s footprints and garner more information about Sara’s short yet prodigious career.

“Sara was a young Latvian violin virtuoso,” explained Deborah. “At the age of 21, Sara’s voice and instrument were forever silenced when she was murdered in the Rumbula Forest, outside of Riga, Latvia in 1941, one of thousands of Latvian Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Sara is a symbol of the lives, culture, music, hope and promise of many generations whose remarkable and promising career were forever silenced.”

Deborah, a Holocaust educator, traveled to Berlin to work with her German counterparts to speak in schools, universities, and community organizations to model how historical enemies can come together in dialogue. From those interactions and through Deborah’s research, SARA’S VOICE sotto voce was born. A multi-media theatrical violin concert, it has been performed to sold out audiences in the United States and Canada. For more information about SARA’S VOICE sotto voce, visit

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