Tag Archives: Yom HaShoah

“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 of Greater Boston to Rededicate New England Holocaust Memorial at Annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 30, 2018
Contact: Shira Burns
gro.n1544407679otsob1544407679crcj@1544407679snrub1544407679s1544407679
(617) 457-8673

(Boston, MA) - To honor local survivors of the Holocaust and to pay tribute to those who perished, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) and its partners will present Rededication to Resiliency, a community commemoration of Yom HaShoah, on Sunday, June 10th, 10:30 am, at Faneuil Hall in Boston. This annual commemoration convenes the Greater Boston community to honor survivors and ensures that future generations remember their stories. This past summer, in two separate acts of vandalism ominously reminiscent of Kristallnacht almost 80 years ago, two of the iconic glass panels of the New England Holocaust Memorial were shattered. “Our entire city was affected,” said Mayor Marty Walsh of the vandalism. “This memorial stands as a symbol of democracy and freedom and that we will not forget what happened during the Holocaust. It’s our duty as a city to spread that message.”

The commemoration will feature a rededication of the New England Holocaust Memorial in a symbolic gesture of our community’s resilience and perseverance, as well as the student winners of the 12th annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest. Rabbi Alan Turetz of Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill will speak about his experience as a second-generation Holocaust survivor, and Esther Adler, who survived Kristallnacht, will share her reflections on witnessing the tragic and historic event.

Rededication to Resiliency is presented in partnership with the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants of Greater Boston, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Facing History and Ourselves, and Jewish Family & Children’s Services.

For information, registration or to support the event, visit https://www.jcrcboston.org/events/yomhashoah2018/.

Speaker Bios

Rabbi Alan Turetz, Second-Generation Survivor
Rabbi Turetz has enriched Temple Emeth as its spiritual leader since 1977. Graduating as valedictorian of his class from Adelphi University, he received his master's degree in Hebrew Literature from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where his rabbinic ordination was conferred with high honors. He subsequently received an Honorary Doctorate from the Seminary as well. During his more than thirty years on the bimah at Temple Emeth, Rabbi Turetz has been an inspirational and highly esteemed leader of Boston’s Jewish community. He has served as president of both the New England Region of the Rabbinical Assembly and the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, as Rabbi for the New England Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, and has chaired the New England Rabbinic Cabinet for Israel Bonds. His incomparable sermons and mellifluous voice, whether for Shabbat or holiday services, are not to be missed.

Esther Adler, Survivor Testimony
Esther Adler was educated in Germany, Israel, and the United States. She graduated from the Teachers Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York and taught for many years at the Midway Jewish Center Hebrew School on Long Island. In 1981, she was invited to join the Department of Education of the Jewish National Fund as its Pedagogic Coordinator. She held this position full time until 1987 and until 1997 as part time consultant based in Florida. Esther is the coordinator of the recently established Holocaust Learning Center of Temple Torah and has compiled and published the stories of survivors. In 2014, she published a collection of poems, "Nature Eternal," and in July 2017 she published "Best Friends: A Bond That Survived Hitler," a novel based partly on her life. She is featured in the documentary "We are Jews from Breslau," which was sponsored by the German and Polish Government. Esther Adler enjoys an active life at Orchard Cove, a Hebrew SeniorLife retirement community in Canton, where she continues to write poetry, teach Hebrew and Yiddish classes, and lecture regionally and internationally about the Shoah.

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.


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Preserving the Legacy: Join us this Sunday for Yom HaShoah

This Sunday, April 23rd, at 10:30am at Faneuil Hall, we will again come together as one community to commemorate the Holocaust. Each year, as part of this Yom HaShoah program, we recognize the winners of the Israel Arbeiter Essay Contest. Mr. Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor and a leader in our community, is a passionate advocate for Holocaust education. His story of survival in the face of horror has inspired thousands of students across Greater Boston.

Zachary Sclar, an 11th grader from Bromfield, MA does not have a Holocaust education program in his school. He is part of the JF&CS Legacies program that matches high school students with Holocaust survivors. Coming from a family of Holocaust survivors himself, he is passionate about learning all he can.

His eloquent, thoughtful, and heartfelt essay is the first place winner of our 2017 essay contest and I’d like to share several excerpts from it with you ahead of this Sunday’s Boston Community Yom HaShoah program.

Compassion and the Holocaust

By Zachary Sclar

“In the final analysis, I believe in man in spite of men.” Elie Wiesel uttered these words while giving his Holocaust Remembrance speech on April 23, 2009. In that same speech, he stated that even under the worst of circumstances, with cruelty and darkness abounding, many survivors of the concentration camps treated each other with compassion. Whether it was sharing a piece of bread with someone hungrier, or shielding a child from harm, somehow survivors found it within themselves to treat each other kindly despite their plight. Wiesel believed that compassion was not just a human right, but it was part of one’s identity and makeup as a human being. Additionally, he felt that every human rights campaign must begin with compassion if it were to be successful.

…I believe that compassion is more than a human right; it is deep inside each of us, and part of our wiring. Compassion is not an agenda item of the political left, nor is it exclusively the doctrine of religion. Compassion is our instinct and duty as human beings to abide by basic human principles that bind us together as members of the same human family. “When some deny our human capacity for compassion by denying human rights to others, they are not just attacking our universal human rights; they are also denying their identities as human beings” (Inn 2010).

Studying the Holocaust the past four years has had a profound impact on my life and has underscored the critical need for compassion today more than ever. One need only look at the Syrian refugee plight for proof of this. The few countries that have stepped up to help are making a huge difference in people’s lives. Whether suffering is in plain sight or around the world, it is everyone’s concern.

I remind myself daily that compassion starts with the smallest of good deeds. In my own experience, the smallest act of kindness goes a long way and can make a huge difference to someone. I am conscious of my privilege as a white middle class male, and I know that others often do not receive the same treatment that I do. I strive to listen to and respect everyone and believe everyone has a story to tell that is interesting and valuable. My responsibility to all, I believe, is simply to listen and remember. If we don’t honor the lives of those who suffered and learn from past mistakes, as the last remaining survivor population dwindles, their stories will die with them. Remarkably, none of the Holocaust survivors whose testimonies I have heard want revenge, and they don’t exhibit any hate or contempt. The unifying theme of all of their testimonies is a wish for a future that is more kind and humane, and that histories’ lessons don’t go ignored. When we bear witness, we become a witness. The onus is on my generation to create a world that is more compassionate. We are the bridge to a better tomorrow. We all need to be aware and do our part in this world. Kindness and compassion are the tools essential for building a future that is more humane.

I hope you will join us on Sunday, 10:30 am at Faneuil Hall as we recognize Zachary’s work and that of five other student winners. Together we will honor our local survivors, pay tribute to those who perished, transmit memory and ensure an enduring commitment to preserving this critical legacy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

How We Remember: April 23 is Our Community Holocaust Commemoration of Yom HaShoah

Last year I wrote about Dr. Robert Berger z’l, a Brookline Holocaust survivor, who had an immeasurable impact on our community and beyond. We were privileged to have him participate in our Yom HaShoah Committee, where he advocated passionately not only for the accurate portrayal of the horrific ordeal endured by Holocaust survivors, but also for teaching about the extraordinary ways in which they successfully rebuilt their lives and contributed so richly to our community .

This week, Dr. Berger’s life and legacy were featured on WBUR’s The Remembrance Project. His wife Pat spoke of his career as a pioneering cardiothoracic surgeon, whose lifetime of work included exposing the junk science and bogus results of the medical experiments performed by Nazis on Jewish concentration camp victims. His response to the death and destruction he witnessed was to dedicate his life to saving others, through his long and remarkable medical career.

This year, once again, we will feature the stories of local Holocaust survivors, as attendees at our annual Holocaust Commemoration hear firsthand survivor testimony. We are honored to feature Rabbi Joseph Polak, a cherished leader of Boston’s Jewish community, as the survivor speaker for the 2017 Commemoration.

Rabbi Polak was just an infant in 1945 when the Allied forces began to move across Europe. Before his first birthday, he was taken along with his family, first to one concentration camp, then another. He was nearly three years old when he and his family were liberated from Bergen-Belsen. Despite the unimaginable trauma he suffered in his early years, his story, along with those of other child survivors, went largely unacknowledged by the larger community. In his book, “After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring”, he writes poignantly about the pain that he and other child survivors experienced at the additional trauma of having their story of survival ignored and invalidated.

Rabbi Polak is the Emeritus Rabbi of the Florence & Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University, and the Chief Justice of the Rabbinical Court of Massachusetts.

I hope you will join us on Sunday, April 23rd to hear his story, honor the local survivors in our community, and pay tribute to the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy