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Thursday, January 23, 2020



It's 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

And in Canada, there are still some survivors. Of course they would have been just children at the time of liberation -- and now in the their 80s and 90s. The Globe article in yesterday's paper haunted me all day.

As a teenager myself, I worked for three summers in a Jewish children's camp near Toronto as a lifeguard, responsible for the Olympic size swimming pool and swimming lessons: the only Gentile in an environment of strong family relationships and Yiddish culture.

The grandparents, many with concentration camp numbers stamped on their arms, had small cabins. The parents of very young children had cottages where they stayed with their little ones. And camp age children -- from, say, 6 to 14 -- were campers with camp counsellors in bunkies within the camp itself. Families were united in summertime Canada with members coming from Brooklyn and Montreal as well as Toronto's Jewish community.

It was a loving and tight-knit community where I learned to speak a little Yiddish and dance the hora and thoroughly enjoy kosher foods: bagels and kishka and borscht, which were certainly not familiar in my small Ontario intensely Anglo home town. A camp very different from the concentration camp environment many had known.

I learned a lot about families too (part of the reason why the article about restructured families fascinated me so much). My own family was quite austere and quite difficult: not remotely offering such a loving and tight-knit haven as these reunited cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents enjoyed in the summer around the pool where I taught swimming and listened to much laughter and joy.

What struck me most about the Globe article were the pictures of present-day Auschwitz survivors. Children then, now in their 80s and 90s, were profoundly affected and are STILL affected all these decades later. Complex developmental post traumatic stress disorder. Lodged in their bodies: perhaps pre-verbally. One woman, then 8 and now 83, says she has blocked out all conscious memories: but her face pictured shows her distress. She had no childhood. The concentration camp survivor grandparents I'd met at the children's camp were of course older at the time of their incarceration and perhaps more resilient with greater resources which contributed to their survival.

In a time of rising anti-Semitism (yes, even in Canada) I am reminded that this is the evil. The evil we must hold in our consciousness and our conscience. Not just the anti-Semitic denigration which endorses permission to perform unspeakable acts of cruelty towards the "other" at the time. Horrifying enough. But the evil which persists across decades, borne in the bodies of those who survived physically but carry the emotional scars forever.

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  • no profile photo SILVERNANCY
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    24 days ago
    Such a sad, sad time in humanity. Really showing the evil underbelly of hate, always spiked by wanting to take your frustrations out on someone perceived lower than you to lift yourself up. It was unreal to me there are people spouting hate and saying this horror never happened today (sadly well known in Canada).
    These charismatic leaders are able to stir up such hatred when people are suffering and downtrodden. Taking advantage of their vulnerability. The newcomers are stealing our jobs, don't let them come, etc.

    Unfortunately Canada has to answer to their own form of genocide against the aboriginal people. Some in recent memory (women being coerced to get their tubes tied) The nightmare of residential schools, the snatching of children from their communities. Oppression is everywhere and nothing new. Will we ever not stop hating our fellow man, all the same underneath.
    So sad and shameful.
    26 days ago
    I am late reading this but wanted to thank you for writing it. People forget. I have seen, heard, felt anti semitism over the years. It always surprises me.
    26 days ago
    26 days ago
    I knew a concentration camp survivor. Auschwitz. The woman was 10 @ the time of internment. Her parents, and siblings were killed. She never understood why she survived. She wrote a book about her experiences. Heart wrenching. Years later, as an adult, she met and married another camp survivor (from another camp). He also wrote of his experiences. How important it is for us to LEARN from these experiences. Indeed, we should NEVER forget.

    My husband is Jewish and his family lost many in the holocaust. That took it's toll on his parents.
    26 days ago
    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful rich memory! I wish that more of the world had the opportunity to cross cultural and religious boundaries in such an organic and enriching way! The world would be a much better place for it. I also think it's so very important to remember those times when we haven't done well by each other and not allow the evil to rise again.
    27 days ago
    27 days ago
    A powerful blog, with so many things happening today it is still relevant to consider our own responses. I think of all people as my neighbours. Governments need to be careful what they allow, I think.
    27 days ago
  • GABY1948
    I agree with ONEKIDSMOM 100%
    28 days ago
    Thank you for posting this today, as well as your ongoing support for fairness and equality in our daily lives. And of course your always intense and insightful and honest blogs.

    I grew up Jewish, and even though my grandparents came to this continent prior to the atrocities of WWII, there are cousins and siblings and extended family who did not emigrate, and were never heard from again. When I've visited Israel, I'm always asked if I have relatives there (given my very obviously Jewish last name). My honest answer is always "I don't know."

    We have an obligation to always remember. To say "Never again." And to know that "Never again" doesn't mean only for those of us who are Jewish, but for anyone who is seen as "the other," as different, anyone whose ethnic heritage or place of origin or whose appearance or life makes them a marginalized person.

    Because until everyone is free, none of us are truly free.

    28 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/23/2020 8:20:40 PM
    Having been to that same memorial in Israel called Yad Vashem where so many leaders met ( https://www.yadvashem.org/) I can tell you there is a whole aura of evil that inhabits that space. Confined by individual concrete rooms, each step into that past horror is palpable and gains in intensity. Cannot even come close to the actual horror, but for the survivors I can only assume that their ability to 'cope' was heroic. I get chills just thinking about that place.

    PS it is with shame that the Anti-Semitism in my country is growing, with our own leader stoking it and all the other antis that grip the dark hearts of humanity. emoticon
    28 days ago
  • BJAEGER307
    This truly was a horrific time in their lives. I went to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial here in Michigan, and left crying.

    Makes you wonder how people bought into Hilter's ideas. I never understood it and never will. I do understand how this type of article would haunt your thoughts all day.

    My wish is that all peoples, no matter who they are would just be able to live together, respect one another, and treat each with equal kindness. If we all did that, don't you think the universe would give that back to us?
    28 days ago
    28 days ago
    ONEKIDSMOM nailed it: "We thought, back then, that we had grown beyond this kind of hate, but human memory is short, when it comes to the history of horror." Each generation thinks that surely we've learned our lessons and have grown beyond the hate of any group. But, each generation has to re-learn the lesson, and usually, at the expense of others.

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    28 days ago
    I am not Jewish, and I grew up a clueless white girl. My introduction to the holocaust was in the school assigned Diary of a Young Girl. We thought, back then, that we had grown beyond this kind of hate, but human memory is short, when it comes to the history of horror.

    It is so important not just to remember the horrors of hatred in the past, but to recognize those growing in the present, and combat them, stand up to them, and love our way past them. As a wise young person once told me (recently), we need to be kind even to those who are buying the snake oil... because very few of us have NEVER been conned. And if we think we have not, we'd best check the ingredients on our thought-potions!

    Kindness is not weakness. It is always appropriate, and it is the only hope we have to heal the scars of hate! emoticon
    28 days ago
  • NANCY-
    Auschwitz and Zamość made me physically ill. Even over 30 years later, my stomach still turns and my heart breaks when I think back on my visit. What is it that the hate-mongers fear? I was taught to love my neighbor and stand up for what is right.
    28 days ago
    "At the end of World War II, General Eisenhower made a decision to personally visit as many Nazi concentration camps as he could. ... Anticipating a time when Nazi atrocities might be denied, General Eisenhower also ordered the filming and photographing of camps as they were liberated."

    I think he was a wise man to order the pictures as terrible as they are.
    28 days ago
  • no profile photo INCH_BY_INCH
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    28 days ago
    I so agree and well said. I recently read the "Tattooist of Auschwitz" and was again reminded of those horrors!
    If only we could learn from the past, many seem to pooh, pooh that they even happened! (((HUGS)))
    28 days ago
    emoticon This is a very disturbing time. I always remember the quote that ends with the thought that after they come for everyone else, then they will come for you. Some people always need someone to blame or hate. Saddest part of being human.
    28 days ago
    Thank you for commemorating a horror that is still not extinct. Be it antisemitism,still the canary in the coalmine, or other forms of persecution of "the other". "the other " is the scapegoat at times of unrest .Thank you for fighting against indifference.

    "The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing." attributed to many this has been quoted for over a century, including by JFK.

    28 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/23/2020 10:29:23 AM
    Thanks for the links. Sadly the witnesses of the atrocities are almost all gone and with them their stories. The anti anything but Anglo white are on the rise again, fuelled by political rhetoric and our indifference. We can't allow them to flourish.
    28 days ago
    All the jew community here come from fleeing from their countries when war exploded. So sad.
    28 days ago
    Thanks you for this blog.

    I never understand the hate.
    28 days ago
    It absolutely breaks my heart to see the anti-semitism today. What a blessed experience you had! I acknowledge that I have not always understood much about the Jewish culture but have learned more and more as I age. It's na amazing heritage and more amazing how the culture has survived these thousands of years! ...especially with so much hate towards them. How can anyone deny that they are God's chosen, and we (Gentiles) can but be grafted in. We also have had stories and photos from time to time in the news. I long to see the day when the lion lays down with the lamb...
    28 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    Thank you for sharing these links. I read the "Diary of Anne Frank" in junior high and it had a profound effect on me. A few years later, right out of high school, I was employed in the History Department Graduate Student Program office of our main campus of the State university. A graduate student pursuing her PhD was a childhood survivor who showed her tattoo number to me and shared childhood memories of the horror she endured (RIP Hannelore Rosenberg Permenter, 1934-2002). A very elderly Professor also had his tattoo but never mentioned it whenever I was taking dictation from him (shorthand days). RIP Professor Kohn.

    The social and political climates of these times are quite disturbing.

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    28 days ago
  • ALICIA363
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    28 days ago
    28 days ago
  • MARTHA324
    We all have an obligation to never forget. As we are seeing in American and around the world, the disease of anti-semitism is never far from the surface. It only takes a "leader" like Trump and others to help it rise to the surface.

    Your experience in Israel sounds just amazing and enlightening. We went to Auschwitze in a 2007 visit of Poland. Powerful and so sad to see what people do to other people.

    Couldn't access the article, but the opinion piece is a powerful reminder of what occurred and what is happening today.
    28 days ago

    Comment edited on: 1/23/2020 7:51:04 AM
    Yes. Yes and yes and yes. And yes.

    and yes

    28 days ago
    Well said. Hate leaves scars forever.
    28 days ago
    28 days ago
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