Photo credit: Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre
When my grandmother’s five nieces arrived at our home from the refugee camps, she did not believe their horrific stories about their experiences in the Shoah. From her life experience in Poland before the War, she only knew of pogroms, not about slave labour camps or systemic murder or medical experiments (to which these young women were subjected). I heard her tell the family they must have been exaggerating their stories.
When I taught a course on the Shoah to Jewish teenagers years later, I began with what people had told me about their own experiences — an incident here, a near miss there, a hiding place — but I found it difficult to present a coherent picture, not knowing where to really begin and where to end. We have a long history of antisemitism and it is not finished today. It was early days, before Holocaust museums and history books that made the Shoah more accessible to kids. There were only a few personal accounts, such as the superb books by Eli Weisel.
This year, Yom HaShoah was a bright sunny day. I started early with a walk in the park to see the emerging cherry blossoms. After a Shul planning meeting, we joined the amazing Yom HaShoah commemoration at the JCC downtown. Two survivors shared their own Shoah and post-Shoah stories. Both people have experienced considerable success after the horrors in their post-Shoah lives. In the audience were the next generations, young adults and their children, people of other faiths and, of course, people their own age. We all listened attentively.
Later that evening, we went to Shul for the evening service. Afterwards, we lit candles in memory of the six million. After each candle was lit, there was a reading by a congregant with different points of view of the Shoah. I read a piece by a young boy who could not understand why this was happening to him and his family.
In the years to come, we may understand the Shoah differently than we do today. We, in this generation, are so indebted to the Survivor witnesses who courageously stand up and tell us their stories.