Monthly Archives: November 2019

At this time perhaps more than ever why we need to think about the sort of world we want.

My Friend Menno writes:

Hi, I’d like to introduce you to Tova.
I’ve circled her in red in the picture.

This picture is a still from footage the Russians shot when they liberated the Auschwitz extermination camp in 1945. Tova was 6 at the time. The children are holding out their arms to show the numbers they’d had tattooed onto them.

Tova was just one when Germany invaded Poland and she was moved to a ghetto for Jews with her family. She survived this ghetto, even a mass shooting as the ghetto was liquidated. She survived the labour camp she was subsequently moved to (despite a concerted effort to kill every child in the camp before moving the Jews on to extermination camps), and eventually she survived Auschwitz, as did her mother. None of her other family members did.

Life after liberation barely gave them time to process the trauma they’d suffered as it presented them with a new set of problems in what was by now communist Poland. Eventually Tova and her mother made it to the States, and she would go on to become a therapist to help people ease the pain they felt in their lives.

I came across Tova’s harrowing account of her experiences as I’ve recently been watching loads of holocaust documentaries and videos of survivors telling their stories. Holland was occupied by the Germans for 5 years and was hugely affected by it, so it’s always been part of our schooling and there have always been documentaries about it. Recently I wanted to look into it again and it strikes me that no matter how many films, documentaries or stories you see and read there are always new pieces of information you never knew about. That it never gets easier to comprehend it all. It’s especially the survivors telling their stories that hit me most. And of all those stories Tova’s hit me the hardest.

At 2.5 hrs I watched her video in parts. Before I went to work, during my lunch break, after I got home. I wanted to give her my undivided attention. Then I watched it again from the beginning and took notes.

She recounts her experiences in such detail, with such clarity, pointing at what it was that made it possible for the systemic annihilation of a people to even happen, what it was that helped with survival, the contradictions and the ironies of the war and post-war life. What it says about human nature. How we can learn from it.

I looked at that picture of her holding out her arm. I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted to say that her story and her experiences mattered, that she would be heard, and that people would listen even more than 7 decades later. More people than she would be able to imagine.

The vid I watched of her was a couple of years old, so I wasn’t sure if she was still alive. A quick google search helped me find her email and within minutes I’d written to her. Isn’t that incredible? Today she wrote me back. Here’s what she wrote:

“Hi I am extremely grateful that you wrote me. At 81 I don’t know how many years I will be able to be a witness to these atrocities. Every time I share my memories I am assuring those children and all those murdered that they are not forgotten. Thank you again. Tova”

It’s incredible that, across space and time, we can make these connections. I’m so glad I could reach out to her, and so grateful she wrote me back.

Soon there won’t be any survivors left. Their stories are part of the collective story of humanity, and therefore part or yours and mine. You can listen to Tova’s story here:

xxx Menno