Survivor draws awareness

The opening ceremonies of Holocaust Education Week 2010, hosted by Hillel Waterloo, began on Nov. 8 with a memorial march that ended in the Wilfrid Laurier University campus Quad.

The ceremony included the reading of testimony from those who lived through the Holocaust, read by participants, an exercise education co-ordinator for Hillel Waterloo Rachel Biranbaum said is an integral part of the week-long event.

Hillel Waterloo is a joint group open to any student interested in learning about Judaism or Jewish culture, regardless of religious affiliation.

“We’re not going to have the stories from the people who experienced it themselves,” said Biranbaum, a second-year Laurier business student. “We want to make sure that everyone still knows what happened.”

Students got the opportunity to experience a first-hand account from Holocaust survivor Judy Cohen. She relayed her story to a packed lecture hall Tuesday night.

Born in Hungary in 1928, Cohen was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in the spring of 1944. Her mother, father and six brothers and sisters had all been sent to concentration camps or used as human shields for the Hungarian army.

“Every day was a struggle to stay alive. Every day took its toll physically, psychologically,” said Cohen of her time in the camp.

Cohen was eventually transferred to a manufacturing plant in Aschersleben, Germany to work as a slave for 12-hour days with little sustenance.
As Allied troops penetrated further into the Nazi empire, Cohen experienced one of the now infamous “death marches” after American bombs decimated the plant.

Cohen, along with nearly 500 workers, was forced to march the 120km journey to another concentration camp, Buchenwald.

Fortunately, Allied forces along the way liberated them, though many prisoners had already died from malnutrition or sheer exhaustion.

It was finally all over, however, the harsh reality was that Cohen would never see the majority of her family again and she moved to Montreal to begin her new life.

“We were not immigrants who longed to return home,” she said.
Nearly 50 years passed before Cohen began to speak about her horrific, almost surreal experience.

Living in Toronto in 1993, Cohen encountered a group of neo-Nazi protestors at the corner of Bay and Bloor. The harsh reality of the human condition so many years after Auschwitz made her want to speak out and break her silence and her story has taken her all over the world.

“Your generation must learn from us, living witnesses, while we are alive,” Cohen told the audience.

“You must think, if [the Holocaust] could have happened in a modern, enlightened place like Germany; could it happen here? Could it happen again?”

Events continue throughout the week

Events throughout the week include a film screening of “Life is Beautiful” on Nov. 10 and a panel discussion on tolerance at the University of Waterloo on Nov. 11.

Chanie Antfleck, president of Hillel Waterloo and a kinesiology third–year at Laurier, explained that the panel discussion will not simply revolve around the Jewish Holocaust.

“With all the intolerance going on around the world it’s really important to get the message out,” said Antfleck.

Both Antfleck and Biranbaum stressed Holocaust Education Week as an opportunity to learn from mistakes of history so they will not be repeated.

“If we say ‘never again’ what does that really mean?” Biranbaum asked.

“There are so many genocides that have gone on since the Holocaust and it is important for us to keep that history alive even though we may not be able to hear it from the people themselves.”