Challah Baking with Holocaust Survivors
7 years ago / in Bliss
One of the things in this world that never fails to fill me with disbelief is the Holocaust. Even though I have studied it for several years, have written more than one paper on it & am currently in an English course based on the study of Jewish literature, I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that an attempted extermination of an entire race of people occurred just over 70 years ago. One of the most powerful moments I experienced abroad was standing in the attic in Amsterdam where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary. Even as I climbed the stairs behind the bookcase & I found myself right in the middle of the most well-known account of the Holocaust, I still couldn’t even come close to imagining the horrors that occurred just a few decades ago. Today, there are very few Holocaust survivors left & soon enough, there will only be second-hand accounts & textbooks to remind us of what happened. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to bake challah with Holocaust survivors, I was eager to hear their stories over the baking & breaking of bread.
Betty was at our table & although she didn’t know how to perfectly braid challah bread, she had the most incredible story of strength & perseverance to share. Only 19 & newly engaged, Betty was forced into hiding after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. For two year she hid in a one bedroom cottage with 17 other people, whispering & left with very little to do & eat. During this time, her fiancé & her father kept journals & we were surprised to hear that this is one of the things that Betty thinks about most to this day. It wasn’t until she read her father’s journal that she saw a completely new side of him & realized how much pain & suffering her parents struggled with during that time. However, this suffering never came to an end as their family were eventually caught & send to Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp in Poland.
Seen as someone fit enough for work, Betty was separated from her family & put to work doing hard labour. From her station in the camp, Betty would watch the smoke billow up from the crematorium while the guards pointed & told her to say goodbye to her family. Although Betty knew that her parents were gone, she had heard word that Al, her fiancé, was still alive & in Auschwitz. Therefore, when the Nazi came in looking for married women, Betty said she was married & volunteered to go to the medical center which was closest to the men’s camp where she had heard Al was being held. At the medical center, the women were subjected to sterilization experiments by Nazi doctors, some of which were at the hands of Dr. Mengele. After several experiments, Betty & the other prisoners were forced to make a three day march through snow to another camp before being transported in open cattle cars to Malchow Concentration Camp where they survived by eating grass for some time before being liberated in 1945. Betty was eventually reunited with Al & now lives in California. However, Betty didn’t begin to tell her story until recently. With some encouragement from her daughter, she began sharing her experience &, in turn, encourages people to pass her story on to others so that it will never be forgotten.
Before leaving, Betty made it clear that the message that she really wanted us to walk away with was this: “Don’t ever leave someone you love without saying good-bye.” She told us that if she learned anything through this experience it was that you should always tell those who matter most in your life that you love them while you can. Betty lost her entire family during the Holocaust, not knowing which good-bye would be the last, therefore this is the powerful reminder that she carries.
It was truly a powerful experience that afternoon, unlike any other. Thank you to all the holocaust survivors who, against all odds, were there to share their stories of perseverance & strength over freshly baked challah. I cannot even begin to imagine what survivors like Betty went through, but I can pass on their message & ensure the same doesn’t happen again.
To hear some of the stories yourself:
Just a girl sharing the baubles she loves & the bliss she experiences!