Thornhill Liberal – July 22, 2010

CREATIVE FORCE BEHIND HOLOCAUST COLLECTION FOUND WORK REWARDING AND PERSONAL

BY DAVE GORDON

With their numbers dwindling, aging Holocaust survivors realize there are limited chances to educate the public on the horrors they experienced. A Thornhill journalist has taken it upon herself to not only assist in chronicling painful but vital history with personal anecdotes, but has utilized a little-used format for educational outreach.

Shlomit Kriger, editor of Marking Humanity: Stories, Poems and Essays by Holocaust Survivors has, by encouraging the creative force of poetry and short narrative, helped to widen the accessibility of survivors’ testimony.

The 28-year-old spent a year and a half compiling and editing the book, which features writings in a variety of styles, providing a first-hand glimpse into the minds and hearts of 46 Holocaust survivors, who rebuilt their lives in the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, England and Germany.

All the material provides details of their experiences during that dark period in history when Nazis killed or incarcerated mainly Jewish people, or how the events affected their lives afterward.

“I wanted the writings to come from their hearts and souls and allow them the space for self-expression,” Ms. Kriger said. “I wanted the book to serve as a celebration of the creative and indomitable spirits of Holocaust survivors, while serving as an example for other groups struggling to be heard and to reach a place of love, peace and healing.”

The impetus for the project indirectly began in 2006, when she co-ordinated the sixth annual Creative Writing Contest for the Homeless through the Toronto-based humanitarian organization Ve’ahavta.

“I found that experience so meaningful and rewarding. The contest allowed the homeless participants to feel they could have a voice in the community, while allowing others to better understand them and their situations,” she said. “Some of the participants told me how the contest helped motivate them to believe in themselves and take steps in positive directions.”

In the summer of 2008, she volunteered for the Conversation Cafe program in Thornhill through Jewish Immigrant Aid Services that helps new immigrants practise their English-speaking skills.

There she met a volunteer named George Scott, a Holocaust survivor. He brought in some of his poems to allow the immigrants to practice reading them in English. At the end of that meeting, he offered Ms. Kriger a copy of one of the poems.

“I wondered how many other survivors there were like him who have these creative pieces that they’ve never shared with others. I thought it would be interesting to discover what was in their hearts and minds during and after the Holocaust, and I realized I should work on the idea sooner than later because the survivors are aging and won’t be around forever.”

Surprising to Ms. Kriger was Mr. Scott’s zest for life, despite the horrors from 60 years ago.

“He sometimes mentioned how happy he was about his life and how he still believed in God. I felt that I was guided to create this book.”

Mr. Scott was the first survivor to submit pieces for it.

“I also hoped that through the process of writing and contributing to the book, the survivors could achieve some level of healing, while also knowing they could leave their mark and inspire and educate others.”

Calling for submissions, she created a flyer and sent it to Holocaust education centres and nursing homes.

Survivor Tamara Deuel, who passed away in Israel in 2007 but whose husband submitted her pieces for the book, mentions in her essay Memories and Contemplations that she hopes “the tragedies that happened and continue to happen due to the blindness of hatred” can lead people to think more about why they occur.

Another survivor from Toronto, Ghita Malvina, says that she tries “to express a view to mankind that freedom, love and friendship are the most important things in the world … each person on Earth can and has to contribute something good in order to make our world safer.”

What Ms. Kriger saw in those submissions was a commonality, a theme of a genuine desire for bridging our differences.

“Despite all that the survivors had been through during the Holocaust and as they struggled to rebuild their lives, many of them still have a lot of compassion for humanity and have held on to the hope that one day people of all backgrounds will learn to get along.”

That message, however, contrasted with her own very personal connection to the war.

Ms. Kriger attended Jewish elementary school and learned about the Holocaust through formal education, as well as through some community events. Her grandfather, Kusha Kriger, was in the Red Army. While he was on the battlefield, his parents, most siblings, and other relatives were murdered in the Minsk ghetto in Belarus.

He has shared some bits of his experiences from World War II with Ms. Kriger’s family, but they were painful for him to talk about. Ms. Kriger dedicated the book to him, as well as to other victims who didn’t survive the Holocaust.

“The inner strength that my grandfather and the Holocaust survivors have inspired me.”

Marking Humanity is more than simply a finite number of people writing about their experiences, Ms. Kriger insists. She does not want people to look at her efforts as just another Holocaust book or an archiving of what happened to others, stuck in the past.

“The book includes information on the various groups that the Nazis targeted during the Holocaust, including not only Jews but also homosexuals, Russians, gypsies, the mentally and physically disabled and others. These were all human beings. Readers are urged to consider what makes one group of people more worthy of a life filled with joy, success and peace than another.”

The book will hit the bookstore shelves this week. For information visit www.SoulInscriptionsPress.com

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