This evening marks the beginning of Yom HaShoah – the Remembrance Day for the Holocaust in Israel. Needless to say, in Israel there is a somewhat different emphasis in how the Holocaust is remembered and taught.
There are still approximately 193,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, an incredibly high number, and each one has a story to tell, whether or not they have actually told it. The television is awash with documentaries, films, and segments on news programmes that focus on these stories in the days leading up to Yom HaShoah.
This morning on the Channel 10 news a journalist brought in a ring that was made in Auschwitz from a spoon. It was one of a pair and whereas on of the rings had been kept by a survivor, the whereabouts of the second had remained unknown for many years. The ring had two prisoner numbers inscribed on it and the presenters spoke of the implications of a love affair that may have taken place in Auschwitz against all the odds. It struck me that not only was such a relationship seemingly impossible, but that the manufacture of the rings from spoons, items almost as valuable as the bowls that inmates would need in order to be able to eat, was also highly symbolic of the incredible perseverance and resilience needed to survive in and after Auschwitz.
Watching the story led me to a discussion about how small and seemingly innocuous objects can have the most significant impact on students as they realize the individual and personal human side of what is often taught as an immense tragedy filled with huge numbers. I remembered a small silver bracelet I saw in Yad Vashem 7 years ago that had been made as a birthday present by one inhabitant for another in the Lodz Ghetto. We would all make a much greater impression on our students if we focus on the smaller, more intimate stories.