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Remembering Holocaust

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April 19 is Holocaust Remembrance Day, a “holiday” that we may only acknowledge as we hear a stray news announcement or see in a tweet from UNESCO. We barely breach the surface of the unimaginable horror, and we think of the Holocaust only in passing as a tragedy that happened decades ago and that we were fortunate enough to have been spared from experiencing or witnessing. I was forced to confront the reality of the Holocaust, beyond the facts that I learned in AP US History class, when I attended a local college’s screening of “One Survivor Remembers,” a documentary about Gerda Weissman, a Holocaust survivor who later became an activist against discrimination and prejudice. Her story is not one that should be forgotten in passing.

Gerda was 15 years old on September 1, 1939, the day the German army invaded her hometown in Poland. Within a few months, her brother and father were sent to work camps for men, while she and her mother were separated and dispatched to textile factories. By the end of the war, six years later, both of Gerda’s parents had died in Auschwitz, and she received no news of her brother; Gerda alone survived after the final Death March in March of 1945.

The documentary consists of Gerda’s eloquent narration, which lends a subtly horrific picture of the part she was assigned in the Holocaust. Her story is moving because of its deceptively trivial detail. Gerda describes the bet she made with her friend on the train to the concentration camp; she bet that the war would be over in six months, while her friend said it would take years. The wager was a quart of strawberries and cream, payable after the war, which her friend failed to survive. Gerda also remembers the family in her Jewish neighborhood that committed suicide together before they could be sent to different camps. She remembers her father’s command for her to wear ski boots when the German soldiers came in June, and how the boots saved her life during the Death March in the snow. Lastly, Gerda recalls how she survived the Death March: by planning a party after the war in her head and wondering whether to wear a dress of red velvet or blue satin. Ultimately, this—her imagination—kept her alive. As she so aptly states, imagination is “the human capability of believing circumstances to be far, far better than they are.”

After the war, Gerda married the American soldier who liberated her, Kurt Klein, and moved to the US. The Kleins continue to be advocates against discrimination and prejudice. They have published books, given interviews, spoken at Columbine after the shootings; they’ve told their story to the world for the noble and continuing purpose of fighting injustice. They believe in the simple philosophy that we must all join the fight, regardless of whether the injustice we see is an incident of cyber-bullying or a casual racial slur. Only then will the suffering of millions serve a purpose.

And we should also remember that on April 19, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprisings began—the largest Jewish insurrection against the German army, and remind ourselves that in spite of oppression and tragedy, people have fought and will continue to fight.




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