By Lauren Bloomberg
This week’s Torah portion Eikev contains a section of the Shema: “So you shall put these, my words on your heart and on your soul, and you shall bind them for signs on your hands, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.” These powerful verses that are recited twice daily are among the last words that many Jews during the Holocaust chanted as they were led to the crematoriums and to their tragic deaths. In the Torah, the last letter of the first word of the Shema, “ayin,” and the last letter of the last word “echad,” “daled,” together spell out the word “ed” which translates as “witness.” By repeating the Shema during their final moments, these Jews not only wanted to remind themselves of their belief and love of G-d, but also that they were witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Their hope was that no other person would ever experience the same pain and suffering, and as a result, their lives and souls would never be forgotten.
In my work with the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo, I have the privilege of being a witness to the stories of our courageous local Holocaust Survivors. I hear them talk about the incredible people who sacrificed their own lives and safety to hide and protect others. I listen as the survivors recount the atrocities and hardship they experienced because they were Jewish, while speaking to students and the greater community. Through these presentations, the students learn that despite the survivors suffering and loss, they continue to find the goodness and decency of righteous individuals. The survivors talk about the heroes, people who chose to revolt against antisemitism and the Nazi regime. I am witness to the students’ reactions and questions for the survivors and experience their responses and awe, as they learn of the survivors’ will to survive and also their belief in G-d and humanity. The survivors reinforce the importance of being an upstander and to question ideas, opinions and information that is incorrect and encourage the students to use their own power and voice to speak up and fight against injustices. Our survivors were witnesses to the most despicable horrors that no human should ever experience. Through the retelling of their stories, they ensure that the world will never forget the millions of lives that were lost during the Holocaust and that future generations will not allow it to ever happen again.
Lauren Bloomberg is the Program Specialist at the Holocaust Resource Center and the proud granddaughter of a holocaust survivor.