Written by: Sarah Mandel
Earlier this month, Queen’s Hillel hosted its annual Holocaust Education Week. This year, we were fortunate enough to have a total of three survivors visit our campus to share their stories. Being able to hear their testimonies first hand is such a privilege, and we are so thankful for the survivors who took the time to engage in meaningful conversation with students here at Queen’s.
The first to visit was Jochebed Katan, a child Holocaust survivor, who joined us for Shabbat dinner. Jochebed was born in Nazi-occupied Holland, where she was immediately given up to another family who hid her and kept her safe for the duration of the war. After sharing her story with us, Jochebed went on to speak about her important mission: defying hatred. She asked us to help her by accepting everyone for who they are, regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexuality and anything else that deems them “different”. Although anti-Semitism and hatred alike still exist, we must do everything we can to combat it. It was a beautiful way to spend Shabbat, commemorate the Shoah, and most importantly, honour Jochebed.
The following Monday, we were visited by Holocaust survivors, David Moskovic and Reny Friedman. David was taken to Auschwitz at just 14 years old. Not long after arriving, he was required to walk nearly 10 kilometers to a work camp called Buna, where he worked as a brick layer for nine months. He was then forced on a death march, where he marched for three days straight without breaks and food. After surviving this horrific march, David was taken to Buchenwald on a train so crammed he had to sit directly on top of another prisoner’s head. Each day in Buchenwald, the guards would take hundreds of prisoners past the camp gates, force them to dig their own graves, and shoot them. One day, they took David there and he knew if he passed through the gates, he would never return. David cleverly decided to drop to the ground and was able to escape his death, since the guards reached their quota of prisoners who passed through and sent the rest back. Despite the hardships he faced during the war, David now lives a happy life and always looks to help others, recently aiding a Syrian family in need.
Reny was a hidden child during the war. In 1942, the Underground placed Reny in a convent in France, where she lived for around two and a half years. She fit in nicely with the other Catholic girls and was kept safe. She was so comfortable there that when her father came to pick her up after liberation, she did not want to go with him. She did not recognize him, nor did she even speak the same language as him. After promising he would bring her back, she finally agreed to go with her father. It took many years for Reny to realize she was not a young Catholic girl anymore. Even to this day, she still has her cross and vows to never forget her time in the convent.
Reflecting back on this year’s Holocaust education week, I think about how my generation will be the last to have the luxury of hearing firsthand survivor testimonies. Given this reality, we must take on the role of sharing the stories we hear with generations to come and ensure these atrocities do not happen again.