Jennie and the Survivors

by Arliene Botnick, April 3, 2018

As we end Passover, the holiday on which we celebrate freedom from slavery and persecution, we begin preparing for another kind of Jewish Remembrance – a ‘modern’ addition to our calendar.

On the 27th day of Nisan (beginning Friday night April 13th), we will commemorate Yom HaShoah V’Gevurah. The day of remembering the Shoah and the strength of those who endured, of those who died, and of those who still are here to tell their stories.

At my most recent visit with my adult class to our Holocaust Centre, I listened to a most powerful and moving presentation by an alert and optimistic survivor who detailed how she alone – at age 13, survived because her mother had the strength to force her 13 year-old daughter to run from the death march, praying that Rose at least would survive.

Rose survived, and she poignantly retold her story, emphasizing the pain that she still feels, some 76 years later, about the loss of her family, particularly her 3 year old little brother. She showed us the only picture she had of him – so heart breaking!

And it reminded me of the losses that my own mother endured; not in the Holocaust, and yet, for her, still so, so painful. My 3 year-old brother, Myer (whom I never knew) was killed by a car. My 15 year-old brother, Moishe, died of a brain tumor when I was 3. Much later on, my mother buried her 3rd child, my sister Rosie who died of cancer at age 50.

My mother Jennie survived and survived as an optimist. Our holocaust speaker Rose, survived as an optimist. How did these women continue to live with hope?

For Rose, she survived through marriage to a wonderful man, to seeing her children and grandchildren grow up in Canada – a country that in her presentation, Rose thanked over and over again.

My mother, Jennie – how did she survive? Well, there is my sister Lorraine and me, whom she loved and supported through all kinds of challenges. There was my dad, Issie, whom she cared for and nursed until his death at age 57, leaving my 47 year-old mother a widow with young girls to care for.

One other survival technique that kept my mother was the home she gave to numerous young male survivors of the Holocaust. My mother had lost her only 2 sons, but she became a foster parent to a myriad of young survivors in the 50’s. There was Jack, Sam, Motel, Leon and Andy. I was too young to understand why all these young men lived with us for a year or two at that time, but I later learned how they had survived, how they had lost every member of their own family, how they were emotionally traumatized and how they needed a home, support and a family. For 1, 2 or 3 years, we were their family. My mom and dad supported them, even helped a few of them plan their weddings. The boys became men. They learned English, went to night school and created new families.

So Rose the survivor, and Jennie the survivor, kept their optimism because they saw that life can go on. And even through loss, we can’t give up.

It is documented that Mahatma Ghandi had written to Rabbi Leo Baeck, who was at that time in a concentration camp, with the message that the Jews in the camps should commit mass suicide to make a statement to the world about what Hitler was doing.

Rabbi Baeck responded, “No, the commandment from God is that we are to live.”

So on Yom HaShoah, we recall painfully the unspeakable tragedy of our people, but let us also recall and affirm, we are still here to tell the story!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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