Holocaust Survivors Day

A new initiative to celebrate Holocaust survivors

We know them as survivors but they are also revivers

Zosia survived as a child by pretending to be Christian. Now 85, she edits our JCC Krakow newspaper and does the Dvar Torah at our Shabbat dinner every week. Bernard survived five camps as a teenager and at age 92 is still making films about his experience during the war. Marcel was liberated from Auschwitz at age 10 and walked back to his hometown of Krakow to search for his family, all murdered except for his mother. Now 86, every June he participates in Ride For The Living, riding the same 60-mile route from Auschwitz to Krakow he walked as a boy, this time alongside hundreds of friends, family, and JCC supporters.

We all know Holocaust survivors. They are members of our families and members of our synagogues and JCCs. They are our parents and grandparents and great grandparents. We have heard them speak about their experiences on Yom Hashoah and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. They are part of our lives.

Zosia, Bernard and Marcel, Krakowian survivors, have become some of my best friends in the world. They inspire me with their strength and resilience, they cheer me up with their knowing smiles, and they remind me every single day of the power of hope and the need for optimism. Their lives are a testament to the hidden strength that resides in each of us. The Nazi death machine forced them to call on theirs, we hopefully will never have to call on ours.

Surviving the unimaginable horrors of the Holocaust was only part of their strength. After the war, having seen their family and friends murdered in front of them, having been starved and beaten and tortured, they somehow made the choice to rejoin the world. To love and laugh again. To have enough faith in the future to bring children into a world that had treated them with great cruelty. To be able to choose life after having faced death on a daily basis takes a special kind of strength and courage.

We know them as survivors but they are also revivers. After surviving the Holocaust they were then able to revive their own humanity.

The arcs of their lives mirror the path of the Jewish people-on one level a tale of tragedy and oppression but in reality, a lesson in forward moving optimism, unwavering commitment to rebuilding, and an ideal balance of cherishing our history and tradition while embracing the future.

There will come a day, all too soon, when the survivors are no longer with us. Their memories will become history, their experiences a warning to future generations about the dangers of intolerance. We must use these remaining years to listen to them and learn from them, to embrace them and thank them for showing us with their lives that there is a way forward out of the darkness.                                     

And for all these reasons and a thousand more they deserve a day. A day beyond those that currently commemorate the Holocaust. A day of their own when we can celebrate and honor and thank them for surviving and reviving and teaching, and for showing us that our past does not dictate our future. Only our choices do.

Please join communities, organizations and individuals around the world as we celebrate the inaugural Holocaust Survivor Day on June 24, 2021.

Jonathan Ornstein is the founding executive director of JCC Krakow, an organization devoted to caring for local Holocaust survivors and rebuilding Jewish life in Krakow. He is a board member of the Krakow Association of Child Survivors of the Holocaust. A native New Yorker, Jonathan immigrated to Israel and served in an IDF combat unit before moving to Poland in 2001.