When it comes to remembering the tragedies of the Holocaust, there are a few phrases that tend to repeat: never forget, never again, we remember, but aside from repeating these phrases, perhaps posting them on social media, and moving on, what are we actually doing to remember? Sharing these sentiments as a reminder of the events is good — but it isn’t enough.
On January 25, Jewish on Campus held a webinar hosted by Chief Marketing Officer Michal Cohen with special guest Tova Friedman, a survivor of Auschwitz. Friedman shares her story with the next generation through her book, Daughter of Auschwitz, and her TikTok page, which has amassed nearly 500,000 followers. During the webinar, Friedman shared her stories, wisdom, and message to the younger generation — the last to live among survivors — on how to carry on the legacy of those affected by the horrors of the Shoah.
Friedman told her stories and memories from as early as ages two to four when she was living in the ghetto. She spoke of her journey in the cattle car to Auschwitz and her time in the camp, the desire to survive, and her strength to keep going. Even through the most brutal hunger and devastating conditions, there was a force driving people to survive just to make it to the point of finding out whatever happened to the family members from whom they were separated.
“In me, somehow, I was a fighter; rather than being a refugee or victim, I always felt as a survivor,” Friedman said of her experience. To carry on the legacy of the Holocaust, or Shoah, as it’s known in Hebrew, is not just to remember the tragedy of the six million murdered but the bravery and resilience of people like Friedman.
The Shoah is often spoken about in broad strokes, concluding the story at liberation, which seems like the end, but Friedman detailed what happened after the Red Army liberated her from Auschwitz.
“It was extraordinarily, extraordinarily tragic because while you’re in Auschwitz, you always hoped someone else is alive,” Friedman shared.
Although the liberation of the camps marked the end in the minds of many, what came after liberation was a new set of challenges for Jews who now had to figure out what to do and where to go.
“We didn’t know where to go. We had no homes and no family. You come back to a place where you had everybody there; you had your parents, you had your friends, you had your neighbors, you come back to nothing, and you don’t know where to go. It was very, very, very hard.”
“Never forget,” cannot be limited to what people experienced in the ghettos and camps during the Shoah, but the lasting effects on survivors and the Jewish community. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the world reminds itself to “never forget” but remains silent about rising antisemitic hate crimes and the growing Globalize the Intifada movement. Taking legitimate action to support the Jewish community is what matters.
Jews are familiar with the selective memory people seem to have regarding the Holocaust. The memory of the Holocaust is invoked any time someone needs to communicate through hyperbole that something is terrible. Yet, when the tragedies’ remnants still affect our community, people don’t remember how horrific it was.
At a time when Holocaust education in the US is failing the Jewish community and students at large, we need to do better. Acknowledging what happened isn’t enough. We need to take active steps to repair the damage as much as we can 75 years after the fact.
The horrors of the Holocaust do not exist in a vacuum, nor are they confined to 1930s and 40s Europe. As the memory of the Holocaust lives on, so does the way we talk about it and treat the memories of the victims and survivors. Millennials and Gen Z know alarmingly little about the Holocaust; prioritizing Holocaust education for the general public is more important than ever.
Friedman said that in a climate such as this, we need to confront antisemitism by opening up conversations and having dialogue, which she is personally now doing on TikTok with the help of her grandson. She told us that what started as a fluke when her grandson’s video of her got lots of views turned into a blessing. It has become a lesson that we must speak up, teach, and help combat the severe lack of Holocaust knowledge among young people today.
We say “never forget,” when important days of remembrance come around, but in Friedman’s parting wisdom to young Jews, she emphasizes that remembering happens more than a few days a year. .
“You should be very, very proud Jews no matter what happens,” Friedman says of facing antisemitism. “Before you could fight another person, you have to know who you are.”