Tag Archives: shoah

Holocaust Education Week


This year is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. For the past 35 years Toronto has hosted “Holocaust Education Week”- a week of lectures, performances, and discussions. Some of the presentations are given by survivors of the Holocaust- Jews who survived unimaginable misery- persecution, labour camps, death marches, death camps, and witnessed the murders/ executions of friends family and neighbours.

This year’s theme is “Liberation: Aftermath & Rebirth”. The title is promising, after all rebirth is something positive. However the pain and trauma continues even when there is rebirth.

The presentations have been extraordinary. (for the list of programmes go to http://holocaustcentre.com/HEW)  On Wednesday night, November 4, I attended a panel discussion entitled, “Holocaust Legacies: Born in Bergen -Belsen”. The four panelists, all of whom are Jewish, were born either in Bergen Belsen before the liberation or in the Bergen Belsen DP Camp (Displaced Persons Camp) after the liberation. They immigrated to Canada as small children. At the presentation they shared their experiences of being raised by parents traumatized by the Holocaust.

photograph of young children at the Bergen Belsen DP camp, from the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee archives.  http://archives.jdc.org/history-of-jdc/?s=archivestopnav

Their parents didn’t have families to support them emotionally. They had to process their trauma by themselves without guidance or mentors. It wasn’t until the very public Eichmann trial in 1961  (http://remember.org/eichmann/intro ) that the extent of the Nazi atrocities became public knowledge. Until the trial survivors usually kept their stories to themselves. Often the stories were too atrocious to be believed or the survivors couldn’t bear to tell their stories. Although the blanket of silence was lifted by the trial in 1961, a majority of survivors continued to keep their pain and scars secret, causing emotional hardship for themselves and their children.

In a film clip shown at the lecture one “Bergen Belsen baby” related how people don’t understand the depth of horror of the Shoah (Holocaust). People say,  “There have been other genocides and mass murders- Hiroshima, Rwanda, Cambodia, and more…” Pondering the difference between those genocides and the Shoah are clear. The Shoah was the only genocide that was carefully planned to be the international destruction of an entire religion. It was the only genocide that degraded people to the level of a commodity to be killed and resold- reusing the clothing of victims, using hair as cushion stuffing, bones as soap, skin as lampshades, human beings as science experiments. Unbelievable, yet that was the depth of the depravity.

HEW is an amazing and important programme. We are given the opportunity to hear stories and witness history. We see before us heroism, strength, courage, optimism and growth.

With the cruelty being enacted in the world around us we can learn from the victories of those who survived. The lesson is: be strong. Do good things. Don’t stand idly by. And I think we also have to endeavour to look at the world and see the beauty around us every day.P1140276

And this is one of the best times of the year to enjoy the beauty around us.

Have a Shabbat Shalom and remember to appreciate your family, friends, freedom and the beauty of nature.


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My family and I were fortunate enough to see a series of 36 beautiful needleworks by Esther Nisenthal Krinitz.

Esther was born in the small village of Mniszek, Poland in 1927. Three years after WW2 began the Nazis took over the village. 15 year old Esther and her younger sister Mania went into hiding. They posed as Catholic Polish farm girls, surviving the war and deportations. As a child Esther had been trained as a dressmaker and as an adult she used all her skills to share her memories. In 1977, at the age of 50, Esther decided to tell her story through needlework pictures. She continued creating her fibre art until she died at the age of 77.

Each of the 36 panels tells a multi-layered story. We see rural farm life with details of home life, working the fields, and religious observance.  This picture shows the Jews of Mniszek making matzah together.

While one woman made dough for her own batch of matzah the other women shared in the rolling. The shoemaker Mottel scored the dough, and his son Yankl put the matzah into the fire. I love the detail. We can see the shoes Mottel made on one wall and on another we see pots and even a potato grater.

The pastoral setting and details of the farms and countryside are lovely. Esther loved nature.  She sewed flowers, crops, trees, and  grass, utilizing many techniques.

She used applique, painted fabric, crochet, collage, crewel work, and embroidery. She used three dimensions and added curtains, braids, and in one piece there is even a curtain that can open and close.  In some scenes, such as the one below, there is a time lapse. This particular piece shows the two sisters in 4 different situations. The subject matter is often jarring. and can reduce the viewer to tears with the details of cruelty, loss and terrible reality.

If you ever have a chance to see this exhibit you should go. Alternatively go to  http://artandremembrance.org/    You will be able to read about Esther Nisenthal Krinitz, see her art and watch an interview with her.

Memories can be communicated through many forms of art- painting, fibre art, music, dance, poetry, sculpture, story telling, graphic novels, and more. We are lucky when we have the good fortune to share those memories because they have been put into the world by people like Esther Nisenthal Krinitz and her daughters.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya


November 26, 2014 · 4:41 pm