If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?
This week Laura Marks, the founder of Mitzvah Day, selects: I Was There by Auschwitz survivor Iby Knill
The Shoah is our burden – to remember, to commemorate, to care, to cry and to learn. Last month as we attended Holocaust Memorial Day events, we came together as Jews and remembered the worst tragedy to befall our people. But it is not just our burden; we share this responsibility with all humanity, Jewish, non-Jewish, young and old.
It is surely not just our job to carry the load though as part of the wider community. We must play more than our part in ensuring that the lessons are learned.
I Was There by Iby Knill is a harrowing poem by a remarkable woman, now living in Britain, who lays herself bare through her story. The language and imagery are distressing and each verse more troubling than the last as it describes the indignities, suicides, experiments on people, disease, the fear and the despair, and each time reminding us: “I was there”.
Iby asks herself in the poem why she survived, offering us the explanation that it was “to keep the memory alive”.
But she goes on to beg for more, for understanding: “So listen to me please… I am different from you, but that does not make me worth less than you” and finally, to the young: “I believe that you will build bridges, not frail ones which will break in the slightest wind, but strong, sturdy ones, based on understanding and respect for each other.”
Her final line, “Do not disappoint me”, speaks volumes.
I became vice chair of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust recently.
My job, as I see it, is to help to ensure that we remember the slaughter, we don’t forget the victims, we learn the lessons, we challenge ignorance, prejudice and hatred because, luckily for me, and unlikely, I was not there.