Saturday, April 02, 2005

Preparation for Yom HaShoah
My youngest’s class will be responsible for the Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) ceremony at their school this year. I personally think they are too young, it’s usually done by the fifth graders, who are a year older, but the teacher thinks it’s a good idea.

They began the preparations a few weeks ago with a trip to Yad Vashem’s branch in Givatayim, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. They were shown a film about Auschwitz and a writer came to talk to them. I asked Bish to go with them, because I know my little one is sensitive to the subject of the Holocaust and I just wanted one of us to be there.

Yesterday was the second stage of the preparations, a workshop at school with the parents. One of the parents, a history teacher, talked to the children about Nazi ideology. I thought this was a very wise choice, which helped the children put the Holocaust into some sort of historic and philosophic context. Children in this country are bombarded with difficult imagery and rhetoric from a very young age. It is important for them to understand that there was an idea and logic (however warped) behind the incomprehensible evil.

After this we split up into little groups of children and parents, and talked about how the Holocaust touched us personally. This we tried to express visually by making collages.

After breakfast, we were fortunate enough to be able to listen to a wonderful woman called Hannah Gofrit. Hannah has written a book for children about her experiences as a child in the Holocaust. The children had all read her book and the whole session was just her answering their questions. But what answers!

The children tended to ask very specific, technical questions about details that they hadn’t understood in her story, such as ‘How did you breathe when you were hiding in the cupboard and in the sack of potatoes?’ And out of these simple questions she conjured up for us a very powerful, compelling image of what her life was like – the deprivation, the helplessness, the fear, the mental exhaustion, the minute by minute struggle to survive, for years.

She spoke so wonderfully, with such strength and optimism, without even the tiniest hint of self pity, that it didn’t really register with me at first, the horror. Hers is a story of survival.

When it hit, it hit hard.

Her answer to how you breathe in a sack of potatoes – when you are a child hiding in a sack of potatoes, you become a potato. And potatoes don’t breathe.

Cross posted on Israelity)