Zikaron Basalon (Remembrance in the Living Room), is a grassroots initiative in which individual Holocaust survivors address up to 50 people – some of whom have never met a Holocaust survivor – in private living rooms or community centers.
The project is a means of learning oral history from someone who was actually part of it. It has become so important in Israel that even foreign diplomats open their residences for such experiences, as do people in other countries where there are Holocaust survivors.
Presidents of Israel have likewise opened their residences to hear survivor stories. At the President’s Residence on Monday, President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, together with several representatives of Zikaron Basalon, listened to the stories of Ines Nissim. Nissim is a resident of Tel Aviv who comes from Thessaloniki in Greece, where before the Holocaust there was a flourishing, well-educated and highly cultured Jewish community with a great love for music and singing. They sang even in Auschwitz, where the bulk of the Thessaloniki Jewish community was murdered.
Nissim spoke of the idyllic life that existed before the German invasion, and of the arrival of the Nazis who herded the Jews into a ghetto, and subsequently took them in large groups to the railway line from where they were deported to Auschwitz.
In the ghetto, no one knew from one day to the next what the morrow would bring, or whether they would have food to eat. Nissim was one of the fortunate ones, rescued from the ghetto.
Herzog noted that people have become more aware of Thessaloniki and the fate of its Jewish population due to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who became an international household name during the pandemic. Born in Thessolaniki and the son of Holocaust survivors, Bourla has spoken extensively on the subject.
Herzog added that on occasions such as Zikaron Basalon, people have time to reflect on those members of their families who had been victims of the Holocaust. He spoke of a Parisian cousin, a young woman by the name of Annette Goldberg, who had been deported to Auschwitz, never to return.
He also mentioned Shmuel Blumenfeld, a Krakow-born survivor of the Plaszow forced labor camp and later of Auschwitz. Blumenfeld had been chosen to light one of the memorial beacons at the official Holocaust Memorial Ceremony at Yad Vashem this week, but died two weeks ago.
Michal Herzog recalled that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, she had participated in a virtual Zikaron Basalon with Dutch Holocaust survivor Charles Siegman. It had been an extremely moving experience, she said, illustrative of the importance of Zikaron Basalon, “because it speaks to people.”