Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. As I read about the various ways the event was marked I thought about some of the personal experiences I’ve had learning about the Holocaust.
On a walk in Frankfurt Germany I photographed these stumbling stones in the sidewalk. They have been placed outside the homes of Holocaust victims. You are meant to ‘stumble’ over them as you walk and then stop and read the names of some of the 11 million people who died in the Holocaust between 1941 and 1945.
I took a group of my high school students on a trip to Israel and Palestine. We spent one morning at Yad Vashem. It is a modern museum in Jerusalem designed to take each visitor on an unforgettable journey through the Jewish holocaust experience. The teenagers with me were mesmerized as they walked from room to room. Everywhere they went there were exhibits and screens that told the stories of Holocaust victims and survivors. I saw many of my students with tears running down their faces as they looked at photos of victims or listened to interviews with them. You can read more about that in my post Taking Teens to Israel and Palestine.
When we lived in Hong Kong I went to see an Anne Frank exhibit and heard a talk by a Hong Kong Holocaust survivor Silvain Gilbert. Silvain was a young Jewish boy in Belgium when the Nazis took over the country and began deporting Jews to concentration camps. A Catholic family in a small Belgium village took Silvain in, changed his name, taught him to speak their local dialect and even had him serve as an altar boy in the local church to make sure the authorities didn’t discover his true identity. At the end of the war he was reunited with his parents. You can read more about Silvain’s experience in my post Meeting A Holocaust Survivor in Hong Kong.
On Remembrance Day in 2019 I went to the Minto Armory here in Winnipeg to hear my daughter-in-law perform with the Polycoro Choir. One piece they did was called Arise, Cry Out by composer Norbert Palej. The haunting music commemorated the death during the Holocaust of the Jewish citizens from the Warsaw Ghetto including many children from an orphanage there.
I only recently discovered the Holocaust Memorial on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. It was created in 1990 and is meant to look like a broken Star of David. It contains the names of 3,700 Holocaust victims who have surviving family members in Manitoba. You can read more about it in my post Remembering the Holocaust in Winnipeg.
Alma was our guide on a walking tour of Nuremburg, Germany. She apologized so abjectly and so often on behalf of her country for what they had done during the Holocaust that I felt sorry for her. As this warm and lively woman showed us the places where Nazi war criminals had been tried and hung, her penitent and self deprecating comments demonstrated the burden the actions of a previous generation during the Holocaust has placed on present day German citizens.
I visited St. Stephen’s Church in Mainz Germany and photographed these stained glass windows created by Jewish artist Marc Chagall who fled France during the Nazi occupation. Chagall made these windows depicting scenes from the Old Testament, to help Jews and Christians remember the Holocaust but also to remember what they have in common and work at reconciliation.
I have learned about the Holocaust in many different places and at many different times but there is always more to learn from reading, watching films, listening to music, studying art and maybe someday traveling again.
What have been some of your personal experiences learning about the Holocaust?