Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community


YOM HASHOAH

Address at Rookwood Cemetery by Ruth Leiser

YOM HAHOAH (May 6th,1997) is a universal day of Commemoration and Remembrance of those who perished in the Holocaust. There have been many community functions around Australia including one at the Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney where the following address was given in Yiddish by Ruth Leiser.

Ruth Leiser is a broadcaster/journalist with S.B.S. Radio. She speaks regularly on the Yiddish language program which is broadcast and heard in Sydney and Melbourne every Wednesday at 3 pm.

"Dear Friends,

I stand before you, for the second time in two years, here where we gather every year at the same time, with the same tragic memories, with the same heartache which we, the Survivors of the Shoah, our greatest catastrophe, have carried for over 50 years.

We gather here to honour the sacred memory of our tragically destroyed near and dear ones. We honour the six million victims who perished "Al Kiddush HaShem", including 1.5 million children and babies who were bestially and brutally murdered or died from cold and hunger. Their bitter fate did not allow them to grow up to become mothers and fathers and contribute to the golden chain of our people.

The memorial ceremonies this year are especially dedicated to children who were miraculously saved, mostly without parents, hidden by noble Christians, most of them in France, Belgium, Italy and a very small number in Poland and the Baltic States, places where the extermination was usually total. For instance, in Vilno where I come from, already several weeks after liberation, there were just four Jewish children who survived in the vicinity - my brother and I were two of them. Later there were a few more of them who survived in the distant provinces and forests.

A painful chapter in the history of our martyrdom is occupied by the child. In the ghettos or in the camps, wherever it was, the children were the first victims. The deportations, the re-settlements and all other German treacherous deeds instantly destroyed Jewish family life. Where not long ago there was a roof over your head, a mother and father's care, brothers and sisters, suddenly there reigned hopelessness and devastation. In this manner, in countless tragic wasy, Jewish life was destroyed, leaving broken homes, helpless orphans in the streets - only yesterday the child belonged to someone, today it is no-one's.

The permanent tensions, terror and uncertainties made young people old and grey. The famous Yiddish poet, Itzhak Katznelson, who together with his eighteen year old son died in Treblinka in early May 1944 (his wife and younger children had already perished) said these lines:-

"The first to be killed were the children, the best and most beautiful which a people possess. The child and childhood represent all that is beautiful in life; laughter, Spring, nature, holiness, innocence, a belief in man and the goodness of man, hope and the future".

Anne Frank and the other children of Terezin expressed their faith and man and his goodness, in the beauty of life, in nature and dreamed of better days. Their faith in the face of death transcended the evil forces which tried to destroy them, and in some sense defeated these forces.

The instinct to live drove some children not to surrender to their fate and some managed, in the most horrific circumstances to save themselves. Now, more than fifty years later, child survivors are forming groups, meeting regularly and developing a type of comradeship most outsiders don't understand. These groups started forming in the United States in 1986, now there are such groups in many countries including here, in Sydney and Melbourne. Many of our members who lived through shocking experiences kept silent throughout the years, many of them with life partners who did not understand or feel their pain and loss. Now some open up and bare their souls to people who cry with them and lighten their pain.

Even in Poland there is now such a group. Most of their members were brought up and lived all their lives as Christians. Only now some of the old "parents" tell them on their death-bed that they are Jews whose families died in the Holocaust. They were taken in by Christians as very young children and knew nothing of their past, who they are or their true origin. Many of them have decided to remain Christian and not distrupt their families but there are many others who have become devastated by this knowledge and want to find out about their lost family, who they are. From all over Poland they come, meet once a month in Warsaw. Some have been lucky enough to trace relatives in Israel and many of their children visit Israel and are drawn to their Jewish roots.

As for my personal survival - destiny dictated that I, my younger brother Jack and our parents were not among those who perished. Thanks to noble Christian friends who helped us we managed to survive enduring unbelievable hardships, hunger and cold, life and death situations and a variety of escapes from certain death.

We were meant to live, there is no other explanation, because almost everyone who decided not to separate from their children, live or die together, sadly died together.

Our three year nightmare started in June 1941 when we lived on an estate in the province of Vilno. When we fled our home forever I was six years old and my brother was four. For three whole years we languished in a collection of hiding places - forests and a multitude of different bunkers, both Summer and Winter and nearly always in the open with only short periods under a roof. I am unable to express in words all the experiences and what we went through and endured during those three years. Suffice it to say that there were cases of betrayal. Our father was arrested, carted off to the Gestapo, tortured and eventually released - another unbelievable happening in those days.

In February 1944, only five months before the Red Army liberated this area, we are dragged out of a bunker, a hole in the ground the size of a grave and only camouflaged, we were taken to the forest to be shot, yet we lived - another instance in an incredible chain of miraculous escapes from death. At the time I was nearly nine years old and remember this episode very clearly. We were still alive and together but what now? February is high winter, the snow is deep, the trees under which once could hide in summer were bare. In spite of having escaped death our situation became once again more than ever life-threatening. Without a hiding place in the daylight hours we were totally exposed, at the mercy of man and beast. My father was very strong physically and emotionally but by February 1944 he was totally exhausted, skeletal and a shadow of his former self. Normally he could have defended us from a mob, but now, who knows? Finally my parents counselled with each other and decided to start walking in order to reach a place of cover before daylight, which was our enemy. I see the saga of our survival as a small capsized boat in a huge sea storm and when all looks lost a wave gathers up the strugglers and drops them on the shore - these were my early fantasies, childish fantasies!

The rest of our family perished. My mother's whole family was brutally shot in a forest near Vilno on Yom Kippur 1941. My father's family - he was originally from Bendzin, Poland - all perished in the death camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek. Some expired from hunger and cold. They were all honourable, pious people with a deep love of G-d and "Am Israel". May they rest in peace.

Let me conclude with the words of Elie Wiesel from his first book which was written in Yiddish "And the Word Was Silent". I quote:-

"Never shall I forget that very night, the first night in the camp which transformed my whole life into a concentration camp night.
Never shall I forget that smoke which delivered my mother, Tzipora, as a sacrifice unto the heavens.
Never shall I forget the little faces of children, whose tiny bodies and little souls I saw transformed into clouds across a desolate and criminally silent sky.
Never shall I forget all that, even if sentenced to live longer than G-d himself.
NEVER!"

AM ISRAEL CHAI"

Ruth Leiser.


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