Tag Archives: Holocaust Survivor

The Chorus of Remembrance

Sylvia Ruth Gutmann was seven years old when, in 1946, she boarded a ship to America with her two sisters. Four years earlier, in a French internment camp, they had been torn away from their parents. While they were hidden for a time in France and then smuggled into Switzerland, their parents were each sent by cattle car to the death camp at Auschwitz and gassed upon their arrival. (pictured above: Sylvia (center), with her two sisters, Switzerland, 1945)

The voyage to America was difficult. The ship was filled with desperate refugees and reeked from the rotting vegetables that were their sustenance. Like many passengers, Sylvia became sick, soiling her dress multiple times. When she and her sisters arrived in New York, they were met by their aunt and uncle, who took in the traumatized girls and helped them start a new life.

Newly enrolled in school and struggling to learn a new language, Sylvia chose a special item for “show and tell”; one that that would help her share her story. She brought in the dress she wore on the ship. She told her classmates about her journey on the smelly ship, and about the murder of her parents. Her teacher, Mrs. Lynch, immediately grabbed Sylvia’s arm, hissing, “You little liar! Be quiet and sit down!” Many years would pass before Sylvia would share her experience again.

That cruel incident took place at a time before the world had fully faced and come to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, as we would in the decades to follow. And yet, seventy years later – we find ourselves with new challenges of knowledge and memory.

A 2018 survey of United States residents showed that forty-one percent of millennials believe that only two million Jews or fewer were killed in the Holocaust. Sixty-six percent of them could not identify what Auschwitz was. In Europe, a third of those polled knew "just a little or nothing at all" about the Holocaust. These numbers are obviously deeply concerning, especially as the very youngest of the survivors who can give first hand witness to the Holocaust are advancing into their eighties.

Through programming connected to the New England Holocaust Memorial, JCRC’s Holocaust education work is centered around survivor testimony. We are committed to providing opportunities for survivors to transmit their experiences for as long as they are able. The Memorial was intentionally placed in the heart of the Boston, along the Freedom Trail and across from City Hall, so that this memory would carry beyond the Jewish community and to all people visiting our city.

In this spirit, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day this past Sunday, we invited Sylvia to share her story (documented in her extraordinary memoir) of unimaginable loss and remarkable resilience with an audience of some fifty people at the Brookline Booksmith. And on Monday, we brought survivor Jack Trompetter to Lynn Classical High School. This was the first and perhaps only time that the 400 students assembled will hear a firsthand account from a Holocaust survivor.

JCRC also worked with our partners these past weeks to promote Holocaust remembrance with a Boston City Council commemoration and as part of the “We Remember” social media campaign organized by the World Jewish Congress. Elected officials from across the Commonwealth took part to lend their voices to the chorus of remembrance.

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The Boston City Council for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

But faced with the alarming figures about the lack of knowledge, we need to double down to ensure that the Shoah is remembered, through meaningful education of the next generation.

Senator Rodrigues

To protect the transmission of history, Holocaust education cannot be relegated to special occasions like the ones this week, but must be fully embedded into the curriculum of all our schools. That is why JCRC has joined with the ADL and others to support legislation mandating Holocaust and genocide education in Social Studies classes across Massachusetts. The bill, filed by Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Jeff Roy would ensure a curriculum designed to lift up the very stories and experiences shared by Sylvia, Jack, and the survivor community.

As a community, we understand our sacred obligation to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis. We remember the warning signs ignored and the indifference of those who knew what was being done at that time; an indifference that provided the necessary cover for this horror. We hear and tell the stories of our survivors – so that we may bear witness to their experiences and carry their memories forward.  Our work of memory is entwined with our hope for the future; it informs and inspires our efforts to build a future where anti-Semitism, all bigotries, and the indifference that enables them, will someday find no quarter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

“How Could it have happened? When will it stop?”

Each year on the Sunday between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, Jews around the world visit the graves of their parents to honor their memories. For many Holocaust survivors and their families, there are no graves to visit. Instead, JCRC and our partners host a Yizkor Service for our community’s local survivors and their families, a program that includes survivor testimony.

When I heard the below testimony from child survivor Frieda Grayzel, I knew that her story of survival needed to be heard by a much broader audience – and that her impassioned pleas for action on behalf of today’s “undesirables” were critical to promote. It is my privilege to share it, with the permission of this remarkable woman.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Greetings, dear fellow survivors, dear families and friends.

Shalom. 

My name is Frieda Grayzel, and I was born in Tomaszow, Poland in 1934.

I stand before you, a child survivor, at this very solemn Yizkor Service for the murdered 6 million of our families, friends, teachers, and unborn generations of fellow Jews whom we continue to mourn.

I come from Central Poland, from a large, close family long settled there. I was the cherished, beloved, cute little girl in a family of mostly boisterous boy cousins. My hair curled like Shirley Temple’s, my dresses lovingly made by my mother, and my elegant coats by my father, a tailor trained in Poland and Paris.

May 1939 - My fifth birthday party. Attended by aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends singing good wishes to me. Among my many gifts was a large red ball with big white dots and a carrying net, popular in Europe then, and a picture book of classical Greek and Roman mythology.

September 1, 1939 - Germany invades Poland. We flee to relatives in Warsaw. My sister Dorka is born on September 7th amidst exploding bombs. We are bombed day and night, trapped without food, running water, or electricity, spending many hours in damp, dark cellars turned into bomb shelters. Warsaw resists the Germans for 27 days.

October 1939 - We return home. New laws in quick succession quickly strip our civil and human rights, enforced by random shootings, humiliations, and brutality. 

Spring 1940 - We are forced to move into a walled ghetto in the worst part of town, many families crammed into each apartment. The ghetto population grows to 15,000 as the surrounding countryside is cleared of Jews. Hunger, cold, no electricity, no heat. Conditions worsen daily. Some lucky people get above starvation rations when they are employed in workshops making goods needed by the German Reich - tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, etc. My father becomes one of them.  

All of our valuables are confiscated, many people shot for trying to hide their jewelry, furs, money, household silver. The lies accumulate: the “Red Cross action”, the “Palestine action”, and on... working on peoples’ hopes that they can escape if only they prove that they have relatives elsewhere.  They are sent to their deaths. 

October 30 and November 2, 1942: The Aussiedlung ‘evacuation’: Aussiedlung: 95% of the ghetto told they will be sent to labor camps. A new lie calculated to minimize resistance. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends are all sent to Treblinka, the extermination camp, and murdered. The rest of us who have a close family member working in a workshop remain in the ghetto and are put to work emptying the apartments of those sent to Treblinka. In a large warehouse, we sort and clean all the possessions to be sent to Germany. My mother and I work sorting through the bed linens and bundling them. 

April 1943 – We are crammed into cattle cars, standing room only. Interminable trip, no air, no water, a cooking pot for a toilet. We arrive at Blizyn labor camp which also allows random killings and beatings for the smallest infraction. Separate camps for men and women, barracks with one board thick walls. 

November 1943 - My little sister Dorka, four years old, is ripped from my mother’s arms. My mother fights to go with her and is savagely beaten. All the children are sent to a nearby forest and shot.

December 1943 - My father and uncle are arrested, stripped of their shoes and kept in a wire enclosure on snowy, frozen ground. My mother scours the camp, manages to get a pair of wooden clogs and throws them over the wire fence to my father. She is beaten savagely with a board from a wooden fence, her ribs broken. That winter, a typhus epidemic sweeps through the camp and almost everyone comes down with raging fevers and hallucinations, no medical care. The “hospital” barrack is so full that I lie on the floor in the hallway. I survive. Soon I come down with malnutrition sores all over. 

July 1944 - We are crammed into cattle cars, an even longer journey. Blinded by light as the doors are slid loudly open, we are pushed, yells of ‘schnell, schnell, faster, faster’- to jump onto the platform many feet below the cattle car floor, surrounded by wildly barking dogs. We have arrived in Auschwitz- Birkenau. Men and women separate, we are told to strip. Many of us have our heads shaved roughly. We get through the showers, alive - water this time. We go through long lines under harsh flood lights to be tattooed with numbers - no more names. In Birkenau, camp B2B, overcrowded triple tier wooden board bunks, starvation rations. I am terrified as my mother risks her life over and over to procure us a bit of extra food. Hangings, shootings, and horrible punishments are all around us. Suicides by electric wire fences. We become used to the stench of the crematorium smoke. 

October 1944 - Our camp is herded to the FKL women’s camp in Auschwitz. We go through a selection by the infamous, white gloved Dr. Mengele. I am sent to the left, my mother refuses to go to the right- to the right go young women capable of work. She is beaten again, but then allowed to join me. As is my cousin Rena and her mother Hinda. Our little group – children and some older women, stand for hours in front of an iron and wood door - the gas chamber. As darkness falls, we are told to dress and walked to a fenced-in brick barrack, holding place for the gas chamber and ovens. We learned later that a small group of women prisoners, over a long period of time, had smuggled in tiny amounts of explosives from a munitions factory and exploded the crematorium– The Sonderkommando Revolt.

An SS woman approaches my mother the next day. She asks if my mother wants to save me and Rena.  Our mothers consult and say yes - they know what our fate will otherwise be. We are taken to the Twins barrack, enclosed by a wire fence. We were close in age. Dr. Mengele performs horrible, heartless experiments on twins. He himself was a twin. Daily some are taken away and returned – or sometimes not – in pain, with bandages, but they never talk. 

The winter of 1944 closed in, days darkened; the twins’ barracks is transferred to the “gypsy camp” after its occupants were gassed and cremated. After a while my mother found me and instructed me on what symptoms to complain of so I would be sent to a hospital barrack. Somehow they managed to get me and Rena transferred. Evacuations, the death marches, towards the West started. Rena and I were too weak to walk, so the four of us hid under the planks of an empty barrack, on the frozen ground.  When the Germans came through to look for any strays, they did not find us.  

January 27, 1945 - The Russian liberating soldiers arrived. January 27th became my second birthday, my re-birth-day.  

July 1945 - My father and uncle Nathan return from six concentration camps after hitchhiking from camp Ebensee in Austria. Rena’s eight-year-old brother Romek was killed in Auschwitz, her father shot a few days before liberation.  We were alive:  we were homeless and stateless. We ended up in Displaced Persons camps in West Germany. After four years of waiting our visas’ turn came and we arrive in the United States in 1949. Our readjustments begin again.

So – how could all this have happened?  Six million of our people and so many others tortured and murdered, one-and-a half million children murdered? 

How could it have happened? It tears my heart to remember, to talk about it – how could it have happened?

Is it when leaders and governments nurture lies and propaganda designed to denigrate and dehumanize some peoples? Is it when it calls people undesirables, as we were, when all borders were closed to us? Is it when people seeking asylum from dire conditions are called murderers and rapists? When it uses children’s separation from their parents heartlessly, as a means to control the borders? Do they not realize or care that the consequences of these actions never go away? For they never go away. 

I will never forget my four-year-old sister Dorka ripped from my mother’s arms, sent to her death in some nearby forest.  The echoes of the 1930‘s in our current situation here are too frightful...

Most of us, survivors, have built good and successful lives and families. We needed both strength and chance to survive. But we live with our experiences always, and so do the families we created. It is inevitable. 

So when will it stop? Will good people with open hearts be strong enough to stop it?  The deceptions, the lies, the heartless policies, the propaganda?  Let us hope so.

JCRC’s Statement on the Death of Elie Wiesel

We mourn the loss of renowned Holocaust survivor, accomplished author, and Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, z”l. Our community and communities across the globe have lost a champion human rights activist and a moral compass, consistently speaking out against violence, repression, and racism. As news of hate and terror comes all too often, we must remember Wiesel’s words - there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest - and we must act in his stead to make the world a more just and safe place, with a shared sense of humanity and humility. His memory will forever be a blessing.

JCRC Congratulates Israel Arbeiter

Local Holocaust survivor and activist to join Presidential Delegation to Poland to commemorate liberation of Auschwitz.

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The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston wishes to congratulate Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter for being chosen by President Obama to be part of a Presidential Delegation to Oświęcim, Poland to attend the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 2015.

For over 60 years, Izzy Arbeiter, an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, has dedicated his life to commemorating and educating others about the Holocaust. He has stood up and spoken for the rights of survivors demanding that the world must remember what has happened, to understand why it has happened, and to identify the seeds from which hate grows.

Izzy is one of the founders of the New England Holocaust Memorial and a driving force behind Holocaust education in New England.

We congratulate Izzy on this high honor and look forward to joining him for the re-dedication of the Israel Arbiter Gallery of Understanding at The Gann Academy in Waltham, MA on February 1.

JCRC of Greater Boston Announces 9th Annual Holocaust Essay Contest

Open to Grades 6-12; Honors Holocaust Survivor and Activist
Israel Arbeiter

(BOSTON) - The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Boston has announced that entries are being accepted for the 9th annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest. Deadline for entries is February 23, 2015.

The theme for this year’s contest is Liberation: From Darkness to Light. Students in grades 6 -12 in Greater Boston are invited to write a 400–800 word essay, to be judged on originality, knowledge, style and depth.

Students are asked to reflect on the following quote from Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace laureate and holocaust survivor:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Essays should address the following: Why do you think it is important not to be silent when humans endure suffering? Do you agree or disagree with Elie Wiesel that we must always take sides in this matter? Why or why not? Discuss a time in your life when you took a side, or you wish you had taken a side, when you witnessed an injustice.

Winners will receive a trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Contest entries should be sent to Ellen Kaye at *protected email*, or mail to JCRC, 126 High St, Boston, MA 02110, along with name, address, phone number, email, birthdate, school, and grade.

The essay contest is part of JCRC’s broader Holocaust Awareness initiative, which includes a Community Holocaust Commemoration of Yom HaShoah. This year’s commemoration will be held on Sunday, April 12 at Faneuil Hall in Boston.

The contest is being coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Facing History and Ourselves, the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston, and many generous donors.

About Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter

Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter is a Holocaust survivor and lifelong rights activist who lost several family members including both of his parents in the Holocaust. For Izzy, the nightmares – and the struggle for justice - have continued for over 60 years. He has carried his message nationwide and internationally, raising funds for the National Holocaust Museum and the Boston Holocaust Memorial, testified against Nazi war criminals, and on behalf of victims’ families before Congressional committees. As a guest of the German Government, Izzy addressed members of Parliament and spoke at town meetings – often to Germans who had never met a Jew. His commitment to "tikkun olam" (healing the world) on many levels is legendary.

About Jewish Community Relations Council

JCRC defines and advances the values, interests and priorities of the organized Jewish community in greater Boston in the public square. Visit us at www.jcrcboston.org.