The first time I ever really listened to a Holocaust survivor speak was on my March of the Living trip in 2005 at Auschwitz. The survivor was the fearless Max Eisen. He stood in front of us, hunched because of the wounds endured during the Shoah but despite that, he stood tall. I remember the urgency in his voice to share his story with all of us so that it wouldn’t happen again.
By crazy coincidence, when I was a little girl, I spent my summers down the street from his cottage in Jackson’ Point, Ontario playing with his grandchildren–without ever knowing who he was or where he came from.
And now I know his story and it triggers my memory especially when Passover comes around.
The beginning of his story is what struck me. I heard him speak, on a drizzly ugly day in Auschwitz, about the last time he was together with his family in Czechoslovakia at their Seder table (now over 70 years ago).
It was at that Seder table where he was honouring Jewish tradition with his parents, siblings, uncles and aunts–singing songs, eating matzo, questioning the meaning and stories of Passover. I pictured the smiles, comfort and smells of Passover and Max as a young boy. And in an instance, it was over. The Nazis came in that night and crushed his family to pieces–like a piece of matzo.
The rest is horror. Max later told us about his experiences in Auschwitz and how it was a human factory, but he didn’t talk much about his fears, pain and helplessness. He didn’t need to. You could see it in his eyes even today.
He lost everything.
And to this day, when I sit at my Seder table (and now this year for the first time as an Aunt) I will be reminded of Max’s story. I will reflect on his family, what was stolen from them and how he survived all of it. I will think about how much they loved tradition, family connections and the spirit of Passover. And I will remind myself, like I do every year, not to be complacent–To not be silent– To fight against hatred. And in so many ways, to try putting that crushed piece of matzo back together.