By DYLAN CAMPBELL
A small 90-year-old woman surrounded by dark grey stone walls sits in front of a small group of high school students, expressively moving her shaky hands as she remembers her childhood.
“This was like the end of the world.”
That’s how Ray Kaner, a holocaust survivor, described her time in Nazi concentration camps to students who are older than she was when she was taken to Auschwitz.
Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates the six million Jews killed by the Nazi regime during World War II, but at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, it’s also a time to remember through those who survived. Seven holocaust survivors sat throughout the museum, telling their stories to a total of 1500 high school on
Thursday as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day with the goal to educate and prevent future atrocities and discrimination.
“I want people, especially young people, to know [my story] because after we die and if I don’t tell the story it’s not going to be told and people won’t believe and, you see, there is so much discrimination,” said Kaner. “What I want them to know from the story: that nobody should discriminate and kill for no reason and people should live really in peace. People don’t know how well they off when they healthy. They have food. They have lodging. They don’t know what life is about.”
Kaner described how she had lost hope and her humanity when she was transported in a fetid cattle car from the Lodz Ghetto in Poland to Auschwitz and then a labor camp in Hambieren in Germany. Each group of students listened attentively as she shared her horrific childhood memories.
According to the Museum President Michael Glickman, they try to teach the Holocaust as a history of individual experiences, and that this tradition of hearing from survivors adds another human layer to that.
“Being able to look into the eyes of the Holocaust survivors and hear their voices and see their faces. It changes that narrative for the visitor,” Glickman. “It makes it more buoyant and powerful and impactful and gives us a chance to help people learn from them. So when we say never forget, we say that as a call to action but also a call to education.”
Surrounded by documents, photos and items from the historic moments they lived through, the survivors, most of them in their 90s, told their stories to circulating groups of students who sat on the floor and listened.
Ruth Zimbler, who recalled watching the destruction of the largest synagogue in Vienna from her childhood home, said that she has been coming to this event for years for one reason.
“I think they have to know what happened….The more they know. The more they will do to prevent it from ever happening again,” said Zimbler, sitting below a giant version of her photo of the synagogue burning. “I don’t want any more injustices to other people. I want these youngsters who hear the story to be upstanding, not bystanding.”
For Aviva Blumberg, whose mother and sister were exterminated, said she doesn’t want people to forget. She said even though she lived it, “it’s already become a story.”
But for the students, the stories came to life. Many described a new perspective and an inspiration from what they learned.
“These stories are horrific but also it’s really amazing to see how they survived these horrible, horrible conditions and made it through to eventually survive and be able to speak here today,” said Nathan Haron, a Ramaz High School student.
“It’s these kinds of stories that make us responsible for telling them because things, like, that can happen again,” said Becky Tauber, also a Ramaz student, reflecting on one of the survivors stories of remembering the sound of stepping on broken glass in the streets on the night of Kristallnacht.
“Since these type of things stay with the survivors forever and it’s horrible that even people try to say ‘it’s not true, it’s not true,’ but we hear it right here.”
As students left they hugged the speakers,saying “thank you” as they moved on, the memories kindled to life in the younger generation.
Photo of Ray Kaner by Dylan Campbell