For the past few days, I have been relating what the entire world is going through now to what that the world faced in the 1930s and 1940s. There certainly are obvious connections. Most notably, there’s the concept of survival. And while I don’t have the expertise to help anyone cope medically and economically, I can share the lessons of survival from the Holocaust. Specifically, in recent days, every single survivor I’ve spoken with has told me that those times were much harder and more trying than now – so please let’s keep that in mind.The lesson for today, which took me some time and prompted some uncomfortable conversations to really figure out, is trust. One thing has always held true for Holocaust survivors – somebody, somewhere, somehow, gave them some kind of help. Of course there are the incredible well-known names of Oscar Schindler, Irena Sendler, and Raoul Wallenberg. But unknown names as well, the Piwat family, Franciska Halamajowa, and Andre Trocme. So many stories from survivors of the names of those they will never forget.
What is truly incredible is that those who survived had to trust the people willing to help; despite the risks and the dangers of doing so. And in these cases, certain extraordinary people helped.
The millions that perished had no one to trust and could not find any help despite their every will to survive. During the time of the Holocaust there was such a lack of trust for so many – neighbors, friends, even sometimes family. If you trusted the wrong person, you were doomed.
In today’s trying times, we too are asked to trust and in this we have to trust everyone. We have to trust that our neighbors, our friends, our family members are staying home. That we are all social distancing and playing our role. That when we do have to go out for food and medication and necessary supplies, we are being careful and washing ourselves and remaining vigilant. We need to trust everyone to do this.
I am really hoping that we have learned from the past and that 75 years later, we can trust the world to help one another. This isn’t one mad man like Hitler, with so many following behind him attacking us. This is a virus, a physical foe that we can defeat if we can trust one another to be vigilant.
So please, for the 35 plus Holocaust survivors that I spent the last two days reaching out to, and the thousands like them that are now in their homes and not able to be out there telling their stories – do this for them, because they still want to survive.
ILYSE MUSER SHAINBROWN
Director of Holocaust Education and Newark Initiatives