Life after liberation

'Return to Life' is an exhibition about the child survivors of Buchenwald.

buchenwald exhibit 224 (photo credit: Yoram Biton)
buchenwald exhibit 224
(photo credit: Yoram Biton)
"It feels good to know that after so long, the survivors of Buchenwald are still remembered, and in Jerusalem no less," said Holocaust survivor Naomi Cohen, as she stood on the lookout deck of the Yad Sarah building in Beit Hakerem last week. The sunset glowed in the distance as a crowd of people gathered in the building's upstairs conference room for the unveiling of "Return to Life," an exhibition about the child survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Comprising 100 photographs and documents describing the lives of 15 children survivors of the camp, the various displays feature moving images and stories that offer a glimpse into horrors of the Holocaust. Despite the morose subject, the mood at last Monday's opening was one of optimism and hope, as attendees seemed especially proud that they were able to commemorate the turn of events that had threatened their existence. "I am happy to be here," said Cohen, who was not in Buchenwald, but a Holocaust survivor whose parents perished at Auschwitz. "I think it's an important exhibition, and I'm hoping to find people here whom I know, from the war." Other attendees looked on in awe at the well-preserved photographs and texts illuminating their history, or the history of their relatives. The children of Buchenwald were of Polish, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian origin, and were between the ages of two and 12 when they were taken from their parents and transferred to the camp. The children spent over five years enduring imprisonment, hard labor and daily atrocities. After their liberation, the children spread over five continents, determined to be living testaments to the possibility of survival against all odds. The exhibition weaves the tragedies of life in Buchenwald with the stories of life after liberation. Among those pictured in the exhibit is Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who went on to become the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. Other photographs compare and contrast the state of the children before and after Buchenwald, juxtaposing their cheery portraits with images of them as scarred youth. The decision to hold the event at Yad Sarah was not a random one. Founded in 1976 by a Jerusalem high-school teacher named Uri Lupolianski, the organization was named for his grandmother, Sarah, who was killed in the Holocaust. Now mayor of Jerusalem, Lupolianski was in attendance at Monday's opening and seemed pleased with the quality and professionalism of the exhibit. "The connection between Yad Sarah and the Shoah is well known," said Yad Sarah director Shlomo Loberbaum. "In addition to the fact that Mayor Lupolianski's grandmother was a victim of the Holocaust, the entire message of Yad Sarah is the antithesis to the message of the Nazis. Where they would kill anyone deemed 'inefficient' or unable to help themselves, Yad Sarah helps those people. That's what we do." Indeed, in its mission statement, Yad Sarah identifies itself as an organization that "strives to enhance the quality of life for people who are coping with difficulties in functioning." It offers lodging and community services for the sick and elderly, or anyone else who "needs a helping hand." "I'm glad that people are interested," said an elderly man, himself a survivor of Buchenwald. "This is the history of the Jewish people and I think it's very important." The exhibit will be open to the public until July 7 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, contact David Rothner at 644-4430 or 052-360-6726.