COVID-19 has not stopped the President of the World Jewish Congress, who serves as Chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation (ABMF) from supporting Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors. In the months after the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder has continued to convene virtually with Survivors who came to Poland as members of the “Auschwitz 75” delegation organized by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation.
This particular group of Survivors, most of whom met for the very first time in January 2020, has grown close during the pandemic, connecting over Zoom to talk about the challenges of life amidst the crisis, and to celebrate happier news of birthdays and weddings.
Following a Passover online reunion and a summer virtual meeting in which close to 60 Survivors participated, which celebrated the engagement of survivor David Marks and his fiancee Kathy Peck, Lauder hosted a High Holy Days reunion for Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors. The online meeting was joined by Survivors from the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, and Sweden. Most of the Survivors joined the conversation alongside their children and grandchildren, thus ensuring that the community bond extends to the second and third generation, and the transmission of Holocaust memory continues from generation to generation.
Lauder opened up the High Holy Days gathering by acknowledging how different the High Holy Days experience was this year:
“Shana Tova! I am so happy that we are all together today. As the pandemic is keeping us apart this High Holy Days -- with our synagogues closed and families forced to stay apart -- we all yearn for the connection and spiritual nourishment that only a community can bring. That is why it was very important to me that we come together as a community and welcome the new year. Together.”
Subsequently, Lauder shared a summary of his speech recently delivered at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference, emphasizing issues including modern-day antisemitism, divisions among Jews of different religious streams as well as among Jews of the Diaspora and those in Israel, and insufficient Jewish education compounded by intermarriage, leading young people to leave Judaism.
The occasion also marked Survivor Eva Szepesi’s 88th birthday. Emphasizing the celebratory nature of the call, Ambassador Lauder extended his birthday wishes to Eva, speaking to her in German.
Echoing the sentiment shared by many other Survivors who have gotten to know Lauder well since the delegation to Auschwitz in January, Tova Friedman addressed Lauder directly and thanked him for emphasizing the heroism of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors:
“You give us a lot of hope. I just started writing my autobiography for my grandchildren. And what I noticed is that I am stressing our heroism, and not so much our sacrifice. I was a child in Auschwitz. I was there for nine months. As I write about the people that I remember, I think of their strength. I think of the strength that our people have and of the pieces of bread I was given by strangers, so that I could survive it. And we really all are heroes. And I think that my grandchildren really appreciate this [way of thinking]. My grandchildren already know my suffering but they don’t know my heroism. They don’t know what I did at six and a half. I think that this is what you are bringing out in us: a type of heroism so that we get more appreciated.”
Many Survivors present on the call expressed their gratitude to Ambassador Lauder for his support during this difficult time. Echoing this sentiment, Amb. Lauder shared that it has given him the strength to know that this group of Survivors remains connected. “You are all heroes of mine,” he shared.