Randall Fried

From Sobibor to Today: Unyielding Jewish Spirit

This past week, despite the trauma of October 7th, I boarded a plane from Los Angeles to Poland on behalf of the World Jewish Congress to join survivor descendants, heads of state, and members of the public to memorialize those who perished and those who fought back on the grounds of the Sobibor death camp.

Standing amidst the hallowed grounds of Sobibor on its 80th anniversary, I am transported through time, memories weaving with the immediacy of present horrors. Just a week ago, on October 7th, the skies over Israel darkened with tragedy as over 1,300+ lives were heartbreakingly extinguished in a single day. This staggering loss, the most significant in a single day since the Holocaust, is a stark reminder that the shadows of the past still loom large in our contemporary world.

The resonant strains of the Partisan Song, an anthem forged in the crucible of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, reverberate in my mind: “Never say that you’re going your last way.” Born from one of history’s darkest moments, these words resound with renewed poignancy in today’s context, encapsulating the undying spirit of a people continually under siege.

The memories of Sobibor, where brave souls mounted a daring revolt against their oppressors, intertwine with the melodies of the Partisan Song to form a tapestry of Jewish resistance. As we mark 80 years since the Sobibor uprising, it becomes not just a recollection of past heroism but an emblem of the resilience and defiance required in our world today.

I think back to the many Holocaust survivors I’ve had the privilege to encounter. Their heartrending tales of despair, hope, and survival serve as poignant reminders of the human spirit’s indomitable nature. I remember Paula Lebovics soothing her fellow Auschwitz inmates with Yiddish songs. Sidonia Lax’s heartbreaking tale of her father’s desperate quest for apples for his daughter is a simple gesture of love and nourishment amidst unspeakable horror. Then there’s Eva Pearlman’s indomitable spirit of positivity, the numbers etched in the arm of Sigi Hart and his story of fighting in Israel’s war of independence, and countless others whose stories symbolize both life’s fragility and its enduring spirit. The Partisan Song reminds us that their testimonies are “written with blood and not with [pencil] lead.”

In today’s turbulent world, their narratives are not just tales from a bygone era. They beat within the very heart of Israel’s present, a present where, even decades later, the Jewish state is once again defending its right to exist. The horrors of October 7th starkly remind us of this relentless struggle.

In light of the rising tide of antisemitism, the importance of educating and remembering becomes paramount. With many states in the US failing to include Holocaust education in their K-12 curricula, it’s not surprising that the flames of prejudice remain kindled and increase during these times. And yet, despite the heartbreaking realization that our world may not have fully heeded the lessons of history, we cannot and will not waver in our commitment to remember, educate, and act.

As we commemorate the Sobibor uprising and grapple with the fresh scars of recent atrocities, our mission becomes even clearer. Now, more than ever, there is an urgency to remember, to learn, and to act. To stand with Israel. To combat hatred in all its manifestations. To ensure that the memories of those who suffered in the past and those lost on October 7th become the foundation of our determination for a brighter, more inclusive future.

The call is unequivocal. It rings out from the echoes of Sobibor, the tales of survivors, the verses of the Partisan Song, and the heartbreak of recent events. Through the most challenging moments, the spirit of the Jewish people remains unyielding. Let the memories of the past and the challenges of the present guide us forward, shining a light of hope, resilience, and unity for future generations.

In conclusion, let us act as we remember, mourn, and reflect. Let us stand up against prejudice, support those in need, and most importantly, always remain resolute in our belief that our spirit will never be broken even in the face of adversity. As the Partisan Song poignantly concludes: “Our marching steps ring out: ‘We are here!'”

About the Author
Randy is the Director of Philanthropic Engagement & Communication at Tzedek America. For the past twenty years, Randy has also been engaged in Jewish education as an educator for teens and adults, specifically spending the past 15 years teaching Holocaust history and the Jewish history of Poland. Randy is a member of the World Jewish Congress Jewish Diplomatic Corps and Speakers Bureau. Through Randy's communal work, he has also become involved in local politics and community outreach and has advocated for both communal and Jewish interests at the City and State level.
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