I walked into a room full of people, chatting and socializing. I spotted my friends and grabbed a chair next to them. The room quieted as my friend, who had organized this event, got everyone’s attention. He introduced Memories@Home and how it came about a few years ago when a group of young adults felt the need for more than just an official ceremony to commemorate the past. On Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah), various public and private organizations will hold memorial services, while all public entertainment is shut and TV and radio will play documentaries and shows about the Holocaust. They felt that just sitting at ceremonies and watching Holocaust documentaries was too disconnected and came up with an alternative, more engaging way to remember the horrors that happened. Fifty some people gathered in a living room and listened to the life story of a Holocaust survivor. This followed a Q and A session that led to difficult questions about the Holocaust, humans, past and the future. Today, there were more than 3000 homes around the world that were hosting a Holocaust survivor to hear their story and reflect on their lives.
After the introduction, the Holocaust survivor spoke about his life. About the rumors that circulated immediately before the war. How he was crammed in a freight train, where everyone had to stand and soil their pants when nature called. His time in the concentration camps. How they were stripped naked for inspection. About the time he got lucky because he managed to convince the military police that he knew how to take care of horses in a stable because he had observed someone for a day when he was younger. Or that his carpentry skills kept him from hard labor and somehow landed him extra food. The smoke they saw coming from near the gas chambers. About the day of his liberation and how he came home to find most of his family still alive. He continued to talk about his life after the war, working and finding his way to success.
His testimony was followed by a little concert by a local singer who sang “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan and a self-composed song inspired by a Palestinian who had visited Auschwitz. At this point, more than half of the people had left. However, for those who stayed, there was an open discussion about the Holocaust. Some people shared about living with their grandparents, the little oddities that were the consequences of the Holocaust like never throwing out food or always checking the shower. We talked about how we are the last generation will be have heard these stories directly from Holocaust survivors. When the school curriculum should start including the horrors of the Holocaust. What lessons can be gleaned from listening and remembering the past.
Despite having visited Auschwitz in high school, I really appreciated the personal story from the Holocaust survivor. I’ll leave you with a quote from the evening, “Appreciate what you have and fight for your freedom.”