Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance

Remembering the Holocaust and honoring those who fell victim to its atrocities.

Here are my great-grandfather and his family on the steps of their hotel (~1920s-30s). They were Fela, Josef, Leo, Jakob, Regina, Sylvia, Renate, Anni. Out of the eight people in this photo, two survived.

After the First World War, Germany was cracking under monumental economic and political instabilities. In the 1920s, the Nazi Party gained tremendous political influence, all the more amplified after the outbreak of the Great Depression. By 1933, the head of the Nazi Party, Adolph Hitler, was named chancellor of Germany, and the Enabling Act was passed, effectively allowing Hitler to become a dictator. The Nazis isolated groups they defined as “un-German,” undesirables, “enemies of the state.” These groups included Jews, Roma, the disabled, Slavs, homosexuals, people of color, and any who did not agree with their political standpoint. The same year, the Nazi Party began to attack the ideas of those they defined as “un-German,” burning thousands of books by Jewish authors and certain blacklisted American authors. Two years later, the Nuremberg Laws removed nearly all legal rights from Jews under Nazi rule. A hundred years before, German poet Heinrich Heine had said, “Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn people.

Rising persecution against Jewish Germans reached a breaking point on the night of November 9th, 1938, Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. Riots led by the Schutzstaffel (SS), the Nazi paramilitary, attacked the homes, businesses, and synagogues of Jews, killing close to 100 people and imprisoning over 30,000 others in concentration camps. The majority of Jewish property was confiscated, and the Jews who did not emigrate were pushed into ghettos and concentration camps

In 1933, there were 9.5 million Jews living in Europe. Today, 1.3 million remain, passing on their traditions and heritage. Those who left – Jewish people whose families had lived in Europe for centuries – left behind much of their heritage. During the Holocaust, with their heritage being denounced, many tried to convert for their safety. Jewish children were hidden with Christian families, taught customs that were not originally theirs, and many were never reunited with their families. 

My great-grandfather Leo Blau was born in Wieliczka, a town a few miles from Krakow. In time, his family moved to Eastern Germany, where his parents owned and ran a hotel and restaurant. At 30 years of age, he himself worked in Germany as an engineer for Frigidaire, an American refrigeration company. One of Leo’s managers joined the Nazi Party in 1933, and as tensions rose throughout the country, he realized he had to leave. With the help of one of his supervisors, Leo emigrated to Turkey, where in 1937 he married and had a daughter, my grandmother. His family came over from Germany to celebrate his wedding. Leo urged them not to go back, but they could not stay. They had lives in Germany, and livelihoods they had to maintain. That was the last time he saw many of them. He lost both of his parents, a brother, a sister, and two nieces. They were but a fraction of the six million killed by the end of the Holocaust. 

The Holocaust has had severe impacts spanning generations. Those who passed away were never able to hand down their history and their traditions. People like my grandmother lost the chance to have siblings or cousins. Those who survived found it impossible to understand how such egregious harm could have been committed. Many found their faith fragmented because, after all, how could their God, their Provider and Protector, allow such a thing to happen? Others found themselves plagued with guilt that they had survived even when so many others had not. Even in the minds of their descendants, we struggle with comprehending the scale of the crimes committed and we find ourselves stuck with thoughts of “what if it was me?” 

In today’s world, antisemitism is still present in our society. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents are being recorded on record levels, with just over 2,000 instances in 2020, comprising of instances of harassment, vandalism, and assault. These incidents span across a variety of settings, from houses of worship and community gathering locations to attacks in people’s homes and on the street. The shaky political climate of recent years has been a catalyst for hate. Harmful stereotypes are perpetuated as ethnic and religious minorities are made into scapegoats for issues wholly unrelated to them. Incidents like these are preventable, if only greater awareness were spread and greater empathy called upon. “I have personally witnessed a rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric, so I thought holding [a Holocaust remembrance] event would educate our community and spread kindness,” said Nittai Huberman ’23. 

On May 25th, 2022, Bronx Science hosted guest speaker Paul Galan, an accomplished cinematographer and a survivor of the Holocaust. He shared his story with our student body, speaking on the time his family spent in a labor camp, and the many months they spent in hiding after it was liberated. When people speak about Holocaust remembrance, they say “never forget.” To do so, it is essential to listen to the survivors of the Holocaust, the people who can never truly forget. For Holocaust survivors, it is not a matter of history, but rather a terrible event that changed the course of their lives. Hearing it from someone who lived it, someone who saw the gruesome details of Holocaust firsthand, is an experience that cannot be compared. Understanding the full emotional impact it had, destroying the lives and livelihoods of innumerable people, can only be achieved by listening to stories like those of Mr. Galan. 

The event was organized by Nittai Huberman ’23, a member of the S.O. cabinet and a descendent of a Holocaust survivor. He contacted Mr. Galan and coordinated with the school administration to give us this opportunity to hear Mr. Galan’s story. Events like these are essential in raising awareness about the events of Holocaust and showing a personal perspective that people may not have previously considered. It is important now more than ever that we are exposed to these resources, as instances of antisemitism continue to rise. 

At Bronx Science, we are very fortunate to have our own museum and course dedicated to Holocaust education. The Bronx Science Holocaust Museum is home to over a thousand artifacts from a variety of sources from the time of the Holocaust. The museum was founded by Dr. Stuart Elenko, and is named for him in honor of his contributions. Dr. Elenko heard stories of the Holocaust from survivors first-hand in the late 1940s, which had a lasting impact on him. In the 1960s, he found himself frustrated by a lack of resources for Holocaust education and decided to create one of the first Holocaust museums in the United States. Through the variety of perspectives that the museum’s artifacts provide, visitors are able to gain a comprehensive and personal understanding of the Holocaust. Dr. Elenko also started our school’s Holocaust Leadership course, where students learn about the events surrounding the Holocaust in greater detail. Students are also taught how to curate the museum and lead tours of it for their peers. By staying conscious and knowledgeable, we are able to understand the Holocaust and properly honor its victims. 

For these reasons, it is imperative that we continue to teach of the Holocaust, to tell the stories of those who survived and to prevent instances of hate from occurring in the future. Through educational resources, listening to the stories of survivors, and making personal efforts to be conscious of the Holocaust, we can honor its victims and reach a greater degree of empathy towards their situations. By staying aware and informed, we have the ability to care for others and we make it so that we will never forget.

German poet Heinrich Heine had said, “Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.” Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn people.