By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
We remember so that it will never happen again.
That is the main message that came from the Holocaust memorial service at the Beth Zion Synagogue. The service, held in collaboration with B’Nai Shalom V’Tikvah from Ajax, paid respect to not only the family members of the congregations killed, but also the millions more Jews and other minorities killed during the Holocaust.
The keynote speaker for the evening was Denise Hans, a French survivor of the Holocaust who was only a young girl when the Nazis invaded the country.
“I don’t have to tell you, we all know what the war meant,” Hans told the packed synagogue. “It was a war against the Jews and the goal of Hitler was to eliminate, completely, the Jewish culture and people.”
In 1941, following the May 1940 invasion, Hans’ father received a notice requesting him to report to the local police station. That notice would have sent him to one of the camps had it not been for the birth of Hans’ younger sister, which gave me a temporary reprieve.
However, her father went into hiding before being discovered again and sent to Auschwitz. He would die six days before the camp was liberated in January 1945.
As other family members were being sent to the camps, Hans’ mother sent her children into hiding, eventually ending up in a convent along with her five sisters, where they stayed until 1948 when her mother was able to bring them home.
In the six years they were away, Hans says she only saw her mother three times.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, as well as the end of the Holocaust. Hans’ father and other family members were among the 90,000 French Jews killed during the genocide – approximately one quarter of the country’s pre-war population. In all, six million Jews and five million others, including Romani, ethnic Slavic peoples, the disabled and homosexuals, were killed.
Auschwitz, the camp Hans’ father was sent to, saw the deaths of more than one million people before being liberated by Soviet forces on Jan. 27, 1945. Hans’ father died during one of the death marches – a 35-mile hike from the camp to Wodzislaw, Poland to avoid the oncoming Soviet forces. The march consisted of 60,000 prisoners, with 15,000 dying on the way.
The Stutthof concentration camp in Poland, which saw the deaths of approximately 85,000 people, was the final camp to be liberated on May 9, 1945 – the day after the surrender of German forces.