It’s Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, created by the state of Israel to remember the Holocaust and the six million Jews who perished. It falls on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
For the remaining survivors, I’m sure they don’t need a special day to recall the atrocities they witnessed and the hardships they endured. For those with numbers tattooed on their arms, the memories are indelible. Many, transported to other countries, taken in by strangers, never saw their families again. Many scraped by in hiding.
The living soldiers are honored on Veteran’s Day; the dead on Memorial Day. There are others, too. Doctors, nurses, rescue workers and resistance members.
Most of the survivors, about 350,000 (Internet search) are in their 80’s and 90’s. Which means, they won’t be around too much longer to tell their tales.
Take Raymond Aubrac. A leader in the French Resistance, he died recently, age 97. He and his wife Lucie engaged in sabotage against the Nazis, landing them national honors and notoriety in film and print. For every story portraying a survivor, a rescuer, a soldier, there are countless others untold.
I interviewed Dr. Tamara Freeman recently for Education Update. A concert violinist and violist, fifth grade instrumental music teacher, and Holocaust ethnomusicologist, Freeman is devoting her time to bringing the music of the Holocaust to students of all ages.
Here’s the interview:
If the viola Dr. Tamara Freeman plays could speak perhaps it would tell us the name of the original owner, a young Polish woman who perished in the Holocaust. Her gentile neighbor rescued the viola, a 1935 Joseph Bausch, from the woman’s apartment, protected it throughout the war, hoping to reunite it with its owner. When the woman never returned, this neighbor sent the instrument to the United States, to the home of the owner’s sister, who had escaped before the war.
Finding this viola on a routine visit to a bow maker to repair her violin and viola strings, Freeman knew this instrument was “her lucky break” that would help her gain the trust of the survivors she’d been trying to meet.
When New Jersey mandated that all schools include Holocaust education in their curriculums in 1994, Freeman volunteered to attend workshops to obtain materials and lessons for her school district. While she gathered information for teachers of all disciplines, she became particularly fascinated with the music and songs that pervaded the period and became symbols of survival.
“I realized this music had a lot of character education lessons that needed to be told. The sheet music and songs described a spiritual resistance. They evoke loss and longing and help us understand what was happening historically during that time,” Freeman said.
She found some resources of music, mostly folksongs, from the ghettos and the concentration camps. Yet finding no specific curriculum devoted to bringing this music into schools, Freeman decided to create one, resulting in her earning a PhD in 2007 from Rutgers University, Mason Gross School of the Arts. Her dissertation, “Using Holocaust Music to Encourage Racial Respect: An Interdisciplinary Curriculum for Grades K-12” includes character education and is aligned with the state’s requirements.
Freeman interviewed 24 Holocaust survivors as part of her research. At first, many were reluctant to share their experiences until she played songs they remembered on the rescued viola. “They would sing along; their eyes would fill with tears. They were so grateful someone respected their music, knew the composers, and understood the importance of sharing this with the world,” Freeman said.
Freeman’s curriculum includes these survivors’ stories. Her 5th graders have performed many songs on their violins, and the 4th grade chorus song the lyrics in Yiddish. Students, staff and parents have embraced the music. “Students feel as though they are experiencing a piece of history first-hand, Freeman said.
Busy giving workshops and concerts around the state at schools and synagogues, Freeman decided to retire this June after 30 years in the classroom. Given that only five states mandate Holocaust education- New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and California, she believes there’s much work to be done ensuring the lessons of the Holocaust aren’t lost.
I asked my son Nathan about how the Orthodox Jews observe Yom HaShoah.
“We say special prayers that specifically mention the Holocaust on the 9th of Av, (in July) which is a 25 hour fast and has been a day of mourning for the Jewish people for 2000 years. Several tragedies occurred on this date including, the first deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto, the declaration of the First Crusade, the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples, the beginning of World War I, etc. Yom HaShoah was created by the state of Israel to single out the Holocaust from Jewish history. Orthodox Jews have always taken a longer term view with the understanding that in terms of lives killed, the murder, enslavement, and exile of Jews by the Romans 2000 years ago was an equally tragic event and deserving to be recognized.The recent memory of the Holocaust is thus used as a bridge to the past so that we can relate to the entire history of suffering by the Jewish people, all the way to Egypt when Pharaoh ordered the first-born sons to be thrown as food to crocodiles in the Nile.”
Worth considering. The mantra “never forget” is applied to many human tragedies.
Sadly, the quote “never again” seems ignored.