Progressively Speaking: How do we remember the Shoah when survivors have departed?

Progressively Speaking: How do we remember the Shoah when survivors have departed?

In the wake of Gena Turgel’s death, how should we remember the Holocaust when the survivor generation is gone?

Gena Turgel speaking at Yom Hashoah 2018
Gena Turgel speaking at Yom Hashoah 2018

As one of those lucky enough to get to know Gena Turgel and hear her incredible personal story resonate with those of all ages, I can say first-hand how much she will be missed.

Gena was a regular part of the Northwood Holocaust Memorial Day Events (NHMDE), which take place at the start of each year, when more than 3,000 secondary school children and teachers in our area meet survivors and/or one of their descendants.

A unique collaboration between Orthodox and Liberal synagogues in the region the children work with trained facilitators to explore the relationship between the past, and key issues they face today, such as racism, bullying and discrimination.

But it’s not just around HMD that this wonderful work happens. Shoah survivors visit schools and youth clubs, speaking to children of all faiths, and none, all year long.

Gena was a very significant part of all of this. Her book was called I Light A Candle and, indeed, at the end of each NHMDE we did light a candle – to honour the speaker, to commemorate all those murdered by the Nazis and to act as a light to the future.

But without this generation, who will provide that light? There is something that resonates with today’s young people when they meet someone who survived genocide – to shake their hand and hear their voice.

The second generation – the children of survivors – are telling their parents’ stories, while over the past decade, videos, audio and even holograms of survivors have been recorded. But we also need to look at a third option.

It may be that future memorial events feature no Jewish speakers with connection to the Holocaust, but instead those who survived more recent genocides, including those in Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur.

Some may balk at this idea, but for me the message is more important than the ownership.

When my daughters were young, we helped a survivor of the Darfur genocide called Mustafa fight extradition back to Sudan. They still refer to that time and how hearing about his family’s experiences has become an important part of the people they are today.

This may be our best way to continue the legacy of Gena and others.

  • Rabbi Aaron Goldstein is the senior rabbi at Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue



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