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We have all read books, watched movies, and participated in discussions about the Holocaust, but nothing can stir your emotions and bring tears to your eyes as much as listening to a survivor talk about his tragic experiences. I just returned from the local library where 86-year-old Leon Schagrin spoke of his life before, during, and after the horrors of living in concentration camps.
I was spellbound and motionless as, for the first 60 minutes, he spoke about the cattle car filled with those who had the strength to stand. He said that as he exited, he waited in a long line where one uniformed Nazi instructed “tso der link, tso der recht.” He wanted to go to the right, because that’s where everybody was being sent. He was pushed to the left, and only later did he learn that those being sent to the right were put to death.
The second 60 minutes was a question-and-answer session which could have gone on for hours. Mr. Schagrin’s softly spoken words filled our imaginations with the sights, sounds, and smells of Szebnia, Auschwitz, and Tarnow. There were horrifying tales of hiding from the Nazis, running from them, and the hopes and prayers of possibly escaping from this most-disturbing chapter in the history of man’s inhumanity to man. He spoke about Belzec as a place that most Americans are not familiar. As a former resident, he returned to Poland and worked diligently with the various authorities to have a memorial built honoring the Jews who perished in the Belzec Concentration Camp.
He gently asked, “How can there not be a memorial to honor the more than 600,000 people who perished there? Only one Jew made it out of this hell. All others were put to death.”
As time passes, each year the number of actual witnesses grow less and less. There are people on this planet who say that the Holocaust never happened. Way back in the 1980s, I was friends with Rabbi Joseph Frankel of East Flatbush. I vividly recall him saying that we must keep the memories of this horrific era alive. He quoted Edmund Burke: “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
He also said that we, the Jewish people, must retell our story and write about it well because, “One hundred years from now, someone will pick up the works of an anti-Semitic non-believer, read it, and then read the works of a Jew who perhaps didn’t express his thoughts as well as the skeptic.” Then he might say, “This one writes so much better, and what he says is so convincing that it must be true. Therefore the Holocaust didn’t happen.”
Rabbi, we’re fighting that fight right now. We must keep it alive.
I am StanGershbein@Bellsouth.net saying that there are many versions of the Burke quote. Here’s just one of them written almost two centuries after Burke’s death. George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”Read Stan Gershbein's column every Monday on BrooklynDaily.com.
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