On January 27, 2015, the world will commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. On the Shabbat immediately preceding (January 24), in Synagogues across the world, Jews will read Parshat Bo. This year in particular, Parshat Bo’s lessons have deeper meaning and relevance.
Parshat Bo begins with the Egyptians suffering through the last three of the ten plagues; אַרְבֶּה – Locusts are destroying plants and food supply;
חושך – the country is engulfed in an extraordinary unrelenting darkness;
מכת בכורות -the death of each first born Egyptian male.
Once the final plague is rained down on the Egyptians, Pharaoh forces Bnai Yisrael out of Egypt immediately; without anytime to pack or even for their dough to rise and therefore the only rations they have with them are unleavened bread. From Parshat Bo comes the mandate to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt; Bnai Yisrael must observe the anniversary of the Exodus each year by leading a Seder, removing all chametz from their possession for seven days, eat only matzah, telling the story of the redemption to their children, and all of the other symbolism associated with the Yitziat Mitzrayim. Bnai Yisrael are also given the commandment to wear tefillin on the arm and head as a reminder of the Exodus and their commitment to Hashem.
How interesting that this Parsha coincides with the 70th anniversary of the ultimate symbol of Bnai Yisrael’s modern day Exodus? The parsha reinforces the responsibility we have to retell the story of the Holocaust; the stories of both death and destruction and of survival and liberation. Personally, as a grandchild of 4 Holocaust Survivors, I am struck by the awesome responsibility, we, the next generation have, to observe the anniversary of their Exodus each year, by sharing and retelling their amazing stories of perseverance and survival .
Sara Bloomfield, the US Holocaust Museum’s director was quoted recently asking a very poignant question; “How do you make sure the Holocaust is relevant to new generations, knowing not only that the Holocaust will have receded in time but also that there will be no more World War II soldiers or survivors?” Who will make sure that this is not forgotten?
My Bobby, Lola Shtupak (Laja Szcweitzer) OB”M, was born in a small Polish town known as Bendzin, right outside of Sosnowiec. She was the only child of Yehezkiel and Esther (Kestenberg) Szcweitzer. At the age of 12, walking home from school, she was picked up off the streets by a Nazi convoy, NEVER to see her parents EVER again. She spent the next 4 years in the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, alone, hungry, and afraid. When the war was over and she was finally liberated, she returned to her hometown to find that her parents, grandparents, aunts , uncles, and cousins, and ultimately the whole town had been liquidated and sent to Auschwitz in 1941, where all likely met their demise. She was then smuggled to an uncle in France and later to an aunt in Texas, but still alone and afraid. Neither Aunt nor Uncle lived a Torah life and she felt that whatever she had been through, her survival would serve as a testimony to the awesomeness of Hashem. Her unwavering Yirat Shamayim led her to move on her New York City to search for a better life.
My Zaida, Yeshaya Yona (Stanley) Shtupak OB”M, was born in the small town of Chelm. He spent the 4 years of the war in hiding, ultimately being separated from his parents, and most of his siblings, alone and afraid. At the conclusion of the war he smuggled himself to Italy to begin training for the Hagana; and the ultimate liberation of Palestine for the Jewish state. He was injured during his training so he was forced to travel to New York City to begin a life- alone and afraid.
In New York City my Bobby and Zaida met and built a home and a family together- based on values that were immersed in the constant memories of being enslaved. They lived every day of their lives appreciating it as if it were there last- they overcame their fears but always remembered them. They raised three daughters and 7 grandchildren and had the zchus (honor) to have 7 great grandchildren- although now there are 10 great grandchildren- the last three bearing their names. Both passed away in the summer of 2010.
My Bobby and Zaida instilled in all of us the importance of Avodat Hashem, Yirat Shamayim, and leading a Torah lifestyle. However the most significant lesson we learned from them was the story of the Exodus, both of Egypt and their own personal liberation. As early as I can remember my grandparents shared with us their stories. My grandparents would meet new people and immediately share their experiences during the war. Every year my Bobby was invited to speak to public school children about her experience in the camps. It was their mission to retell their stories and make people aware of what happened to them. And now it is our mission.
The phrase “Never Forget” is not just a mantra, it is a tradition we are bound to uphold. A tradition steeped in thousands of years of Jewish heritage. It is a call to duty for our generation to continue the legacy through the practice of commemoration; by telling the story of their redemption to our children and grandchildren.