Among the manifold downsides of the current pandemic, the prohibition of gatherings in public spaces is high on any culturally-leaning list. In the short term, that rules out all events connected to this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, taking place next Monday night and Tuesday.
And, like so many areas of life these days, institutions, media outlets and local authorities up and down the country have opted for the virtual domain to host their tributes to the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazi machine of destruction.
The memorial events run the gamut of traditionally-learning activities to survivors relating first-hand stories of their horrific wartime experiences and musical creations.
The latter include a project by Yad Vashem, based on a poem written by a young girl, Eva Pickova, contemplating her fate and the small sliver of the outside world she could still espy from her cramped quarters at Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. The “I’m Still Alive” online event will be uploaded to the Yad Vashem website on Monday evening, and features a musical work scored by Effi Shoshani and performed by 31 children and teenagers, who each sing a line or two from their own lockdown residences across the world. Shoshani, a laureate of Prime Minister’s Prize for Composers, with experience of scoring for such gala occasions as the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games and the Independence Day celebrations at Mount Herzl, put together an evocative sonic substratum for the youngsters’ emotive delivery.
Pickova was born in Nymburk, Czechoslovakia on May 15, 1929 and was sent to Terezin on April 16, 1942. She wrote many poems at the camp before she was sent to her death in Auschwitz a year or so later. Living in constant dread, and in very difficult conditions, Pickova writes, in her poem called “Fear:” “Today the ghetto knows a different fear, close in its grip, death wields an icy scythe. An evil sickness spreads a terror in its wake. The victims of its shadow weep and writhe.”
With her freedom severely curtailed, and not knowing what the day ahead might bring, the young girl wondered whether or not it would be better to die and escape her misery or somehow manage to get through it. She bravely opts to continue her fight for survival although, ultimately, for her it was to no avail. “Perhaps it's better – who can say? – than watching this, to die today? No, no, my God, we want to live! Not watch our numbers melt away. We want to have a better world.”
KAN is also offering relevant viewing slots including a startling documentary called Hunger – A Warsaw Ghetto Doctors Underground, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Monday, as Holocaust Remembrance Day begins, with a repeat screening at 3:34 p.m. on Tuesday. The 56-minute film tells the astounding tale of how Jewish doctors, incarcerated behind the high ghetto walls along with almost half a million other Jews, established a clandestine medical studies faculty and a research program focused on the topic of hunger.
The underground health system provided the inmates with around-the-clock services, and incorporated some 800 doctors, renowned scientists and nurses, in tandem with the Judenrat (Jewish council) member responsible for health matters Dr. Yisrael Milaikowski. Hunger includes recorded testimony from ghetto survivors who talk about the wide range of facilities that operated under the most trying conditions, taking in hospitalization, preventive medicine, research, and classes for around 500 medical students.
The research facility was established in 1941, naturally in defiance of Nazi directives, and Milaikowski managed to smuggle the findings out of the ghetto in summer 1942. Polish doctors published the research paper a year after the end of World War II, and the project is still considered a revolutionary piece of medical science.
The documentary, made by Tal Michaeli, also includes an interview with Dr. Miriam Ofer a researcher of medical history, lecturer and author of A White Gown in the Ghetto. In addition, Rambam Medical Center staff member Dr. Yoav Stebholtz, whose grandfather Dr. Ludwig Stebholtz survived the ghetto and worked in the ghetto health system and who passed away in 2011, recounts some of the stories he heard from his illustrious and brave forebear.
The Ghetto Fighters' House, heritage museum, documentation and study center, was founded at Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot near Nahariya, a community of Holocaust survivors, in 1949. This year, for the first time in 71 years, there will be no official public event to mark the day there. Instead, as the museum director Yigal Cohen notes, the center will continue efforts to make as much information as possible available online, particularly to members of the second and third generations.
“We fully realize that we can’t, right now, make direct eye contact, and get physically close, so we are making the most of the technological opportunities we have,” Cohen explains adding that, unlike most of us, he is currently busier than ever. “We were faced with deciding if we wanted to give in and just accept that we can’t do anything during the coronavirus lockdown, or do our best to make things accessible to people come what may.”
Opting for the latter proactive line Cohen says he and members of his staff are doing their utmost to make Holocaust-related data available to survivors and their descendants on the Ghetto Fighters' House web site, as well as providing material for individuals, groups and organizations to feature in their own memorial programs.
That is in addition to marking Holocaust Remembrance Day as best they can. “We will be holding a virtual ceremony which we will show in various formats across social media and other platforms, such as our website and Facebook,” Cohen continues. “We didn’t think we’d be doing this, so we had to start from scratch. But this is a very important event, and we want to make the best of it.”
Various community centers around Israel, such as the Kedma-Tzoran Community Center, will also be putting on online events, while several local authorities will focus on the “Zikaron BaSalon” – Memories in the Living Room – project, which centers on Zoom sessions of survivors’ testimonies.
For further information:
Kedma-Tzoran Community Center - http://www.matnas-kz.co.il/html5/EventproLookup.taf?function=details&_ID=36298&did=4460&G=4460&SM
To view the performance of Fear - https://drive.google.com/file/d/11yGwe7tlcleZLH1xP-6ADAM0RVdd5ONi/view