Magda Bader, who survived Auschwitz, reaches for her mezuzah. / ILENE PERLMAN   

In these troubling times, Yom Hashoah gathering will remind us to ‘Never Forget’

SHARE THIS STORY

HELP SUPPORT JEWISH JOURNAL

In these troubling times, Yom Hashoah gathering will remind us to ‘Never Forget’

Magda Bader, who survived Auschwitz, reaches for her mezuzah. / ILENE PERLMAN   

Magda Bader was 14 years old when the Hungarians gave her family 24 hours to get out of their home, leaving everything behind. She was 14 when her family was forcibly moved to a ghetto, 14 when they arrived via cattle cars at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“Even today, when I speak about it, I know that my voice changes,” she said. “I feel my eyes are tearing, because I remember it very well, all these horrors. I never thought that I would survive.”
That was 80 years ago. It was Passover when they came to Munkacs – then Hungary, now Ukraine – in 1944. “We lost all sense of day and time,” she said of her time in the concentration camps.

When the Allied forces arrived in the spring of 1945, Bader and three of her sisters escaped the abandoned camp and hid in the nearby woods for days. When they emerged, hungry, sick, and weak, they found American soldiers, and asked what day it was. April 15, they told her. Two days before her 15th birthday.

“It wasn’t happy times,” she said. Much of the rest of her family did not survive.

Today, Bader, 94, and her sister Hansi, 98, are all that remain of the family. Bader, who came to the United States in 1949, lives in Chestnut Hill, and her sister in Connecticut. She said she feels anguish from the meteoric rise in antisemitism over the last several months as the war in Gaza continues.

“It’s difficult to imagine that this is again, a big issue, that people have to be conscious whether they’re wearing a [Jewish] star or a kippah,” she said. “It’s very hurtful.”

“I remember it very well, all these horrors. I never thought that I would survive,” said Magda Bader, who lives in Chestnut Hill. / ILENE PERLMAN

Bader plans to visit Hansi on May 6 – Yom Hashoah. But when asked if the visit was timed for Holocaust Remembrance Day, she said no. “Yom Hashoah for me is every day,” she said.

Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff was younger than Bader when the Nazi influence touched her life. Around age 5, when she was still called Marika (her Hungarian-Czech name), she watched her father being dragged away by Hungarian police during a Shabbat dinner in her home in Košice, Slovakia (then Czechoslovakia). It was 1940. She remembers her mother screaming, and her father struggling back, trying to escape. Afterward, she turned to her mother and asked, with all the innocence of youth, “Why did they take Daddy?”

“Because we are Jews,” her mother replied.

This is often how Klein Kassenoff, 87, begins her talks when she speaks on the Holocaust. She is both a survivor and an influential voice in Holocaust education, serving as the founding director of the University of Miami Holocaust Teacher Institute, the education chairperson at the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach, and the education specialist for Holocaust Studies for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

On Monday, May 6, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Salem State University will host Klein Kassenoff as a speaker at its annual Yom Hashoah program – which has been running continuously for more than 30 years – from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Higgins Middle School in Peabody.

The program will feature a memorial service in which Higgins students, students involved with Hillel at Salem State, and surviving family members will participate in the candle lighting and flowers procession, along with anyone else who wishes to honor family members.

“We’re trying to involve second-generation, third-generation, as well as young students,” said Chris Mauriello, director of the Holocaust center at Salem State. Mauriello expects around 300 participants, with about half joining online via Zoom.

Klein Kassenoff will tell her story at the event. After that night in 1940, her family (father included – he was able to escape from the labor camp he was taken to) fled Europe later that year, rushing to make it onto a ship to America from Lisbon, Portugal.

“As far as today, I think it’s sad that – particularly for those of us who are survivors – that we have to witness that antisemitism is once again rearing its ugly head,” said Klein Kassenoff.  “I sometimes wonder whether it’ll ever be over. Antisemitism has been called ‘the longest hatred.’ It goes way back.

“I do think that if we do maybe a better job in educating our students today on the history of antisemitism, and who the Jewish people are, what the Jewish people are about, how they have helped and continue to help others of all cultures and all faiths – that might be the direction to help heal these wounds,” she said.

Since it’s a commemoration for the victims of the Holocaust, Mauriello said the event will lean away from politics around the war in Israel and Gaza, but will address “the lessons and legacies of the Holocaust, and why it’s relevant today.”

For Mauriello, the most powerful part of the ceremony each year is looking at the candles and remembering the voices that are absent today.
“It’s wonderful to hear from survivors,” he said, “But I’m oftentimes reminded that 6 million people didn’t have a chance to give us their testimony. I think this is part of their testimony.”

About a month ago, Salem State hosted another Holocaust-related event: a concert by the Essex Piano Trio, featuring Beverly pianist Beverly Soll of Rockport, violinist Ashley Offret of Salem, and cellist David Cabral of Lynn. The group was premiering its spring performance series, “Silent Voices Remembered,” a Holocaust memorial concert.

Soll, the pianist, recalled Mauriello saying that it is music that gives voice to the voiceless – a form of resistance against forgetting those murdered in the Holocaust.
“It allows people’s emotions to go where they need to go,” Soll said. “And so, without words, it’s a way of allowing those remembrances to be real.”

On May 2, in honor of Yom Hashoah, the Essex Piano Trio will be performing “Silent Voices Remembered” at the Gloucester Meetinghouse Foundation, presented in collaboration with Temple Ahavat Achim. The pair has held a Yom Hashoah concert for the last three years.

The concert begins with the music of three composers – Warsaw-born Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Yitzhak Edel, and St. Petersburg-born Dmitri Shostakovich – who witnessed the Holocaust in their lifetimes. The concert concludes with two pieces from American composers of Jewish descent, Benjamin Lees (who immigrated to the U.S. as an infant) and the contemporary David Ludwig, director of The Juilliard School in New York.

On Yom Hashoah itself, the trio will be performing at the University of Maine in Orono.

“The side pieces make a program that we think is a statement about victims, but also about hope,” Soll said. “And we think the music does a good job of saying that.”

To register for the event either in-person or on Zoom, visit salemstate.edu/chgs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Jewish Journal is reader supported

Jewish Journal is reader supported