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.