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We remember the Holocaust

Helen Marcum, former JCC of Syracuse board member and board president, reads a poem during the senior lunch's Holocaust remembrance luncheon on April 13, 2018.

A child’s memory is a strange thing. While adults remember grand events that changed the world, children remember the little things from everyday life. The color of a hand-knitted sweater, a German copy of Cinderella that would not fit into an already overstuffed duffel bag, the blueberry sauce eaten with slightly undercooked blintzes, and the chestnut teddy bear that travelled in her arms as she fled the country with her family.

“You see, I thought the teddy bear would protect me from the Nazis,” says Dolly Honig, 87. Even though she knows there are gaps in her memory and some things are just too painful to recall, the thought of her furry friend still brings a smile to her face. Honig was only nine years old when she and her family were forced to leave Berlin and go to Czechoslovakia.

“My father went first because he wanted to make arrangements for me and my mother,” she says. “And we travelled by night with the help of one of his friends. We had to cross a railroad underpass but there were guards stationed everywhere. I just remember my father’s friend shouting ‘RUN’ and so we ran like our lives depended on it… which they did but I was too young to realize it back then.”

In Czechoslovakia, Honig learned to speak Czech and even translated for her parents when they went to the market. But the peace was only temporary. Eventually, her father had to flee to France while she and her mother were forced to escape to Norway and live in hiding at a farm.

“We were not starving but it was always so cold, so cold… it makes my bones freeze just thinking about it,” she says as she wraps her coat around herself. Honig’s story is reflected in her artwork. Like her father, she is an artist. Every inch of her workshop is populated by bits and pieces of wire, stone, clay, and completed pieces of art. A recurring theme seems to be her experiences as a child, reflected clearly in pieces made out of blocks of stone with tiny closets carved into them with remarkable detail and a deliberate haze that reflects the fuzziness of a child’s memory. 

“We were always packing up and moving,” she says. “Almost always leaving things behind—dolls, books, clothes—so we had to pack small and that’s what we did. These boxes, their compactness, their stoniness, their portability; that’s my story.”

While Honig’s recollection of her turbulent childhood is now tinged with a poetic acceptance and a sense of distance, another child-survivor of the Holocaust, Dr. H. Richard Levy reminisces about his experiences like they happened only yesterday. Levy was one of the 10,000 children who were rescued through the Kindertransport nine months before the official breakout of the Second World War.

“I does seem like that sometimes,” he says. “Like it was not too long ago that we heard that a synagogue in our neighborhood was set on fire, that my father was worried about our factory, that he was missing for ten days and my mother was worried sick that he’d been taken to Buchenwald… but the truth is, it was a long time ago. However, it is still difficult to think about it.”

Levy was nine when the Kristallnacht happened. And he remembers that even though his early years were happy and comfortable, he attended a Hebrew school because Jewish children were not allowed to go to the same schools as other German kids. He didn’t think much of it as a child but he did keep a journal called ‘Anti-Semitic Incidents on the Street Car,’ of which he has no memory.

“My mother asked my father if she should pack the journal with my things,” he says. “But my father decided against it. He didn’t want me to carry any emotional baggage from Leipzig. He wanted me to be able to start afresh. The next day, when my mother dropped me off at the meeting point for the kindertransport, she thought she would probably never see me again. But as fate would have it, she did. I never saw my father again.”

Levy’s father was mortally ill with stomach cancer. He died six weeks after his son’s departure.

“Thinking about those times is painful but my story is a much more positive one as compared to others,” he adds. “There were people in my extended family who didn’t survive the Shoah. My maternal grandmother Elise died in Terezin.”

Like thousands of other families, his family was also torn apart by the Holocaust. Everyday, there are stories of people finding their long lost loved ones or their descendants thanks to modern aids like Facebook. His cousin Marianne who was still in Leipzig tried to find out what happened to him through the internet. But she was not successful. In a twist of good luck, the German television network MDR located him and reunited him with Marianne in a televised ceremony after 70 long years. The location of this very poignant meeting was the train station from where Levy had taken the kindertransport.

Jewishness is about a lot of things—faith family, community, experiences in the diaspora, good and bad and terrible. The Holocaust is perhaps one of the most defining experiences among the terrible ones, which is why every year, on the 27th Nisan, we remember the six million souls lost in the Shoah.

The seniors of the Sam Pomeranz Jewish Community Center held a commemoration on Friday, April 13 during the senior kosher lunch in which they prayed for the victims of the Holocaust and for hope that such a genocide should never happen again to anyone. Helen Marcum concluded the remembrance by reading a powerful poem titled I am the Holocaust by Hannah Diane Williams. And while the rest of the afternoon was spent listening to thoughtful, contemplative music played by Little Jazz Trails, for many people the commemoration was not over.

As Dolly Honig would say, we think about the Holocaust constantly. It is in the things she has made over the years, the objects she has not been forced to pack in over 50 years, and the warmth that she can feel in her coat. It is a lesson even if her memory is not so good anymore. But she tries and she remembers.

 

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