Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I'm Still Here!!

L ike the rest of you, I spent quite a lot of time in the past few days attending Holocaust memorial events for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). I heard the old and the very old tell their stories. I saw the young explain the Holocaust to other children.
The programs were very different, but the messages were very similar:
** G-d made miracles for me.
** I was determined to remain alive.
** I was very lucky.
** Our Jewish children are our victory.
** Live the way you know you should, because the world can change in an instant.

Memories of the Camps
Life was absolutely regular in pre-World War II Europe for both Siggy Weiser and Mendel Flaster until one day it wasn't. Then suddenly 16-year-old Siggy found himself in a cattle car on his way to certain death and Mendel (in his twenties) was herded into a ghetto.
They were young men, not heroes, but a heroic life was thrust upon them. They survived when those around them gave up. They simply refused to give in to death.
Eighty-year old Siggy Weiser (pictured at left with former US GI David Hollander) figured out at his young age how to keep warm - stuffing cement bags in his paper-thin uniform - and how to find food - eating discarded spoiled cabbage that tasted to him like sauerkraut. Yumm.
They tried - even while wading through garbage heaps or organizing the clothing of dead Jews - to keep some semblance of human dignity.
They acknowledged G-d's miracles for them and they did what they could to help their brethren, even in their darkest moments.
In fact, 90 year old Mendel Flaster (pictured at left, speaking with Efratian Max DeVriend) says that as a young man he was driven by a combination of his stubborness and his decision to constantly act for the benefit of his fellow inmates.
Siggy Weiser and Mendel Flaster actually passed through some of the same concentration camps, but they never met until they both ended up in my town of Efrat (Siggy is a resident and Mendel a guest).
Both, alumni of the Gleiwitz, a subcamp of Auschwitz, as well as many others, they began completely new lives after the war. Seeing the political prisoners in their concentration camp being embraced by their countries of origin, Siggy and his fellow survivors realized that no nation in the world would wish to claim the remnants of the Jewish people, except their own - Palestine. Siggy found a blue shmatta (rag) and a white one, and hoisted them on a pole with enthusiasm and determination. His make-shift "Israeli flag" inspired everyone around him with hope that these Holocaust survivors had a country to which they too belonged.
Seeking justice as best he could, Mendel donned a US Army uniform, and went to work for the Criminal Investigation Commission and the Criminal Investigation Division, dedicating many years after the war to hunting down Nazi war criminals.
Siggy and Mendel are telling their stories now so that we can all be witnesses to the atrocities of the past, our enemies' attempts to totally destroy our people, and the ultimate victory and eternity of the Jewish people.
It is horrific, but it is real and cannot be denied. Their stories must live on. And all of us who have been privileged to hear the testimonies of survivors can say,"Once I heard a great-grandfather talking about his experiences in the camps. This is what happened to our people...."

First Graders Explain the Holocaust
Holocaust survivors are in their 70s, 80s and 90s today. May they live and be well until 120. They are not the only ones telling the stories of our people's tortures during the Holocaust. Our children are carrying forward their message of faith and struggle and survival.
I attended the First Grade Orot Etzion Girls' Holocaust Memorial Production. The girls told the audience the hardships of the Shoah. They hung stars representing the different towns from which Jews were deported. They lit six candles in memory of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust.
How much does a first grader know about the Holocaust? Surprisingly, a lot. In their show, they even portrayed a little boy who risked his life to crawl through the ghetto fence to buy bread for his family. One little girl in the play remarked that she couldn't remember ever having tasted fresh bread.
The children explained, once Jewish children went to school and played and laughed with glee, and then suddenly all the simple childhood pleasures were taken from them. Yes, children can understand the Holocaust on their levels.
Before he finished speaking Siggy Weiser called out, "I'm still here!!" B"H, the Jewish people continue on. Siggy said that his victory of the Nazis is his family - his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Bli ayin hara.
Yes, in every generation our enemies rise up against us, and thanks to G-d's mercy and love for the Jewish people, we continue on.
To watch Voices TV clips about the Holocaust, click on www.voices-magazine.com . Siggy Weiser can be heard at http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=129. View the Memorial by Efrat's Children: http://voices-magazine.com/voices-videos.php?id=130 . More to come.

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