A little bit of heartbreak

So today I went out searching for the Holocaust. We were hoping to invite survivors to the school for Yom HaShoah. Our plan was to have High School students interview survivors and present their stories to the school. Years ago I had been the youngest interviewer for the Spielberg Foundations so the whole school program really resonated somewhere deeply within me.

Each week, survivors meet at the Jewish Federation for programming. I showed up planning to shmooze. I came late. The real entertainment had already begun. Of course an accordion was involved and a young yeshiva guy singing Yiddish (except if I could sniff out a conspiracy I would say perhaps he just dressed the part for the gig). Couldn’t have scripted it better. Midway through their set, they decided to sing HaTikva. Nothing is more sad/moving/humbling than watching 87 year olds struggle to their feet to sing HaTikva. They sat down for a stirring rendition of Chad Gadya (note to the guy playing the accordion: next time save HaTikva for the END of the set).

I got up to give my shpiel (the yiddish seems to be wearing off on me) tucked in between the accordion and a video of Theodore Bikel reminiscing on Pesach in Europe (Dear Deena and David, that’s right I just referenced Theodore Bikel. I win.). No one seemed to care. The woman running the weekly meetings told me, through tears, that the time has passed for us to listen to survivors tell their stories. “Let them leave their band aids on,” she said. “Most are too old and too fragile to be able to tell their stories.” I guess it isn’t a surprise. Twenty years ago, survivors that I interviewed were concerned about their history and legacy. Many of them had never told their wives or children anything that they endured all those years ago. Now, we have reached the point where we’re turning to children of survivors to tell their parents’ stories for them.

I hope that we have done well in the eyes of the generation of survivors. I hope that they have felt the respect and empathy that we have been taught from a young age. Because tonight I’m in a bit of depressed haze thinking that we’re turning to the next generation to hear their parents’ stories.

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2 Comments

  1. Emma

    Devorah – I work in Israel with Holocaust survivors and unfortunately i don’t think that they feel the respect and empathy from the massess. They often feel forgotten, tossed aside and invisible and their biggest complaint is the way our own government treats them. However, on the flip side, I’ve met many who are still quite strong and are pleased when I ask them about their stories of survival. They are eager to share and feel it’s very important to share what they experienced so that we continue to talk about it for many generation to come. Good luck with your Yom HaShoah plans!

    • Emma, the truth is that the way Americans treat survivors is vastly different from the way Israelis treat survivors. Israel has an embarrassing history of neglected and shunning survivors. But I do feel that growing up we were taught differently. I’m happy to hear that there are still survivors who can share their stories.

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