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Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).  Yom Hashoah falls on a different date every year – it’s based on the Hebrew date of  27th Nisan, which this year the English date is Thursday 19th April 2012 (commencing Wednesday eve).   It was introduced in 1953 and is one of only four official days to have been added to the Jewish calendar in more than 2000 years.

Yom HaShoah is the Jewish Community’s day for internal reflection. It is an opportunity to educate; to unite in passing on the torch of remembrance; to honour the victims of the Shoah (Holocaust); and to recognise the achievements of its survivors and refugees who have given so much.

As I sit here writing this blog post I am remembering  my childhood of always knowing about the Holocaust and being acutely aware of how lucky I am to be here.  My family is originally from Czechoslovakia.  My grandfather managed to escape and was one of the first people who fled to Israel when he was just 16 (Palestine back then).  Tragically only he and my aunt (who was a survivor of Auschwitz) survived.  The rest of my entire family was exterminated.

About 20 years ago I decided that I wanted to return to Poland and visit the concentration camps.  Because of my family I had always had a yearning desire to go and really get a sense of what had happened – after all there is only so much you can learn from listening to stories and reading history books.  The trip has stayed with me forever and I remember so much of it in every miniscule detail.

I was honoured to go on a week trip with a lady who survived the Holocaust.  She was a remarkable woman who went round with us and really gave us a true insight.  I will never forget how she showed me the spot where her grandfather was shot in front of her (she was a young girl at the time).  When I think about my daughter Emily having to witness such a terrible and tragic worthless act, words can’t describe how I feel.

Strangely visiting Auchwitz wasn’t the most emotional place I found.  Whilst it was clearly devastating to visit, it had been turned into a museum so it was harder to really get a sense of what truly happened there.

One day I recall visiting Treblinka Concentration Camp and it was on this day that I completely broke down!  The whole trip had been incredibly emotional (not to mention when we visited it was freezing cold! can you imagine living there, malnourished and having to work?).  Unlike Auschwitz Treblinka doesn’t have any buildings left.  It uses stones to replicate the railroad where the tracks were which extended into Treblinka camp.   I will never forget looking around me and literally seeing hundreds of thousands of stones everywhere.  Each stone represents someone who was exterminated there.  At this point it really hit me at the sheer scale of what happened.

So here I am writing this blog post and I can’t believe it was over 50 years ago… and yet it deeply saddens me at the lack of ignorance that still goes on today.  There is still so much hatred and war and wasted death.  But I will never forget what happened and am incredibly proud of my roots and over the years have enjoyed teaching many people about the Holocaust – I genuinely believe that education is the best way to fight ignorance.


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