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Storytelling plays a key role in the observance of Yom HaShoah, known in English as Holocaust Remembrance Day.
At sundown on April 27th, Jewish families around the globe will begin a day of reflection and remembrance, honoring the victims of the Holocaust and those who struggled against the tyranny of Nazi Germany.
Many will light memorial candles and say the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning. In Israel, sirens will blare and, for two minutes, the entire country will come to a standstill in a moment of silence for the dead. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem will host events featuring survivor testimonies and stories of Jewish communities that were lost.
Storytelling is a vital part of Yom HaShoah. Through the recollections of survivors and the painstaking work of historians, a portrait of the European Jews that the Nazis tried to destroy can be preserved. These stories are often hard to hear, but we need to hear them. As the philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Through my wife, I was able to hear the story of one brave survivor, my wife’s grandmother, Miriam Gershwin. In the April/May issue of Mysterious Ways, my wife tells the remarkable story of how her grandparents–whom she affectionately calls Oma and Opa–found each other again after being torn apart by the madness of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
That’s only part of Miriam’s story, however. Several years ago, a documentary film crew from the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, an organization created by Academy-Award-winning director Steven Spielberg, asked Miriam about her experience before, during and after the Holocaust.
In the following clips from that interview, she tells the story of her harrowing time in the Kovno Ghetto in Lithuania, where she was forced to clean house for a Nazi commandant. She also tells of surreptitious–and illegal–exchange of goods for food, and ultimately the difficult decision she made that spared her life and that of her husband and father, while the rest of her family perished.
To read Oma's full testimony, download this manuscript (PDF, 408k).
(To download, right-click on the link [control-click on a Mac] and save file to your computer.)