By Amalya Teitelbaum, Senior Business Editor & Business Manager
Certain stories can not be brought to life by merely glazing one’s eyes upon page after page from a history textbook. Certain stories not even the greatest imagination can paint on even the finest of canvases. Certain stories require a voice. Growing up, many students who attended Jewish day schools had the incredible opportunity to hear the words of Holocaust survivors and heroes. Words of hardship, desperation, and sorrow. Words that they today use to enlighten the younger generation about the tales of the past. I have recently had the immense privilege of hearing from 2 Holocaust survivors, Mr. George Blank and Ms. Rena Quint, due to a Holocaust course I am taking taught by Rabbi Joseph Schwarz.
Mr. Blank’s story begins in Poland, a story that is told through the eyes of a confused scared child. At the age of 3, he was exposed to horrors that even most 80-year-olds would never even dream of, let alone experience. Not but half a year later would be the last time he ever saw his father. Without even a second to process the loss he had just experienced, Mr. Blank was ripped from his home with his mother and placed in the Zloczew ghetto. They built a fake wall in their apartment to hide people when the Nazis came to drag people off to the concentration camps. Mr. Blank’s family later escaped to a farm where they hid until the camps were liberated. When a child is brought up in a world of horrific chaos and pandemonic bloodlust, they gain understanding and maturity quickly, as it is a matter of survival. Which is why, even at an age that young, Mr. Blank was able to grasp that “the core idea in antisemitism is envy.” This early maturity showed in the way Mr. Blank spoke to the class, with a sense of ease and understanding of who he was and the importance of portraying that in the classroom. In the aftermath of the war, the world saw children emerging with the exhausted eyes of adults and the worn-out souls of the ancient.
Ms. Quint was born in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. Her story begins in 1939 with the invasion of the Nazis. She was hidden in a cellar with her brothers as a 3-year-old as bullets rang through the air outside. Her family, as well as many Jews in the community, were rallied and brought to the main shul. While she was standing there, a man looked at her and whispered one word: run. “I don’t know where I found the strength, but I just ran.” Her brothers were taken to Treblinka, and her father was placed in a factory, where he later hid her. Disguised as a boy she was able to stay there until she, her father, and her uncle were brought to the camps where they were separated. Despite her father’s promise to meet up with her in their hometown after the war, she never saw her father or uncle again. She was taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she remained until the camps were liberated. While she was there, a woman stole a coat and used it to keep herself and Ms. Quint warm. Ms. Quint stated that while she may have lost her mother, God granted her with many surrogate mothers throughout the war. While Ms. Quint spoke, there was a light in her eyes and a jump in her voice, things that one would never expect to see in someone who went through one of the most tragic events in history. With a smile on her face, Ms. Quint remarked, “Everybody is born, I was just born twice.” That yes, she may have started living her life ten years late, but she was not going to waste a moment of it.
To tell tales of the past brings a certain reassurance of the lack of repetition. The understanding that while the tragedies will haunt our nightmares, they will never again manifest in the light of day. However, an individual can not help but look at the events of the Holocaust with the events today and draw comparisons. I approached both Mr. Blank and Ms. Quint and asked them as survivors their thoughts on seeing the horrific affairs occurring halfway across the world. Mr. Blank simply but brilliantly reiterated, “ They envy us, our morals, our successes, our achievements. We need to stand strong in those things and ultimately we will emerge victorious.” Ms. Quint drew upon the differences between now and then stating, “We now have the state of Israel, we have an army and we have a home.” That alongside “proper care and proper love, we can bring the hostages back to humanity.’’
To learn more about George Blank’s story you can hear him speaking at Yad Vashem here.