Matterkind’s IMPACT group hosted an event last week to hear the testimony of a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, Ms. Toby Levy. I had the honor and privilege to introduce Ms. Levy before she spoke.
Ms. Levy described her childhood during the Holocaust. After the Nazis invaded Poland, she went into hiding with her family from 1942 to 1944. She knew that if they were discovered, they would most likely be sent to death camps and murdered, simply for being born Jewish. Ms. Levy also told her story a few years ago at a virtual forum, and one thing she said really struck me: After they emerged from hiding at the end of the war, her father hoped there were other survivors, but there was the possibility they were the only Jews left alive in Poland. “Someone has to survive because the world needs to know what happened,” he said, “Maybe it’s us.”
The world still needs to know what happened. Because the hatred and ignorance that fueled this genocide against the Jews still exists. And, so, we—all of us–have work to do. We must not be indifferent–indifferent to Ms. Levy’s story, indifferent to the history of the Holocaust, or indifferent to the antisemitism that currently occurs in society. Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “[T]he opposite of love is not hate but indifference.”
The sheer scale of the Holocaust is so great, it is easy to be indifferent. 6 million Jews were murdered by the time it ended in 1945: an unfathomable number. Complete villages and communities were systematically wiped out across Eastern Europe. Nearly 2 out of every 3 European Jews were killed, including 1 million children. Think about this: if you held a moment of silence for every victim of the Holocaust, you would be silent for 11.5 years. Elie Wiesel also once tried to explain how indescribable it was to witness a horrific scene where children were burned alive. “Words,” he said, “they die on my lips.”
We read about the Holocaust as history, but, as Ms. Levy’s presence at the event reminds us, it wasn’t so long ago. It occurred within my own parents’ lifetime. Antisemitism has been called the world’s oldest hatred, and it is remarkably persistent. The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews were gunned down and 6 were wounded as they attended weekly Sabbath services on a Saturday morning, was the deadliest attack on Jews in US history. And it occurred in October 2018, less than five years ago. And just over the past year, the number of antisemitic incidents in the US increased by more than 35%, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Even the gunman of the Allen, Texas shooting on May 6th of this year was an avowed Neo-Nazi.
The refrain I heard regarding the Holocaust, while growing up within my Jewish community, was to “Never Forget.” It sometimes felt so passive, so inadequate to me. How can simply remembering the stories of what happened possibly be enough? There must be a way to be more active, to help keep the memory of those who were lost, alive. And yet: there is.
One simply cannot just “remember”, one must “bear witness.” To quote Barack Obama after he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel: “May we remember those who perished, not only as victims, but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit.” Absolutely, we should. Yet we must also hear the stories of the ones who, through sheer will and determination, not only survived the unimaginable, but thrived. Their lives counteract the hatred that tried to destroy them, and their strength manifests the power of the human spirit – that essential thing we all share, regardless of who we are, what we believe, and how we were born.
I have tried to bear witness in my own life. Growing up, our neighbor across the street was a man who survived Auschwitz with a tattooed number on his arm, and who was able to go on to live a beautiful life with a successful business, surrounded by loving friends and family. I remember sitting with him outside on a beautiful sunny spring day, where he turned to my family and said, matter-of-factly, that that day marked the anniversary of his liberation from the camp. He survived, he thrived. He did all the things that make life worth living. He’s still with us at 95 years old, he still bears witness. So must I. So must you. The world still needs to know what happened. We still have work to do.
So I ask you: Listen to Toby’s story, read the books, watch the films, and educate yourselves about what occurred. Remember: we are the last generation to hear these first-hand accounts from the people who lived through the Holocaust, survived, and transcended it. We are the ones who can ensure a future where this truly cannot, and will not, happen again.
As Ms. Levy once said: “I need all of you to remember me and be my witness.”
What can be more powerful and meaningful than bearing witness to her testimony and sharing her story? The world still needs to know what happened, so that the world may, in reality, never ever forget.
Watch Ms. Levy share her story here: