Below is a speech written to celebrate the experience of 22 Holocaust survivors and 85 UCLA students who took part in an intergenerational program, while commemorating the 11 million lives lost in the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day). The survivors and students joined hands in the Bearing Witness program which cultivates intimate relationships and fosters intriguing conversation over bimonthly lunch sessions about the big questions surrounding life and death.
Together we must bear witness
Yom Hashoah 2013
The energy of the room was dynamic. I was taken aback by the passion that seeped out of every table and the zest that emanated from every corner of each unique conversation. Together we created a little bit of the miraculous in our day to day lives. What I am describing is the palpable manifestation of something extraordinary. It was a room of 85 college students and 22 Holocaust survivors that joined hands in an intergenerational experience over this past winter. Together, students and survivors became intimately connected when they created warm and personal relationships with one another, as they shared the stories of their lives over bimonthly lunch sessions.
As survivors granted the students with the opportunity to generate a firsthand understanding of some of the most defining experiences of their lifetimes, students accepted the responsibility of bearing witness. To bear witness is an active process of responsibility. It is the conscious decision that these students have taken on, to not only engage in the survivor’s story, but to adopt the survivors story into their own. In doing so, the students have made a personal commitment to moving beyond the role of the bystander to seek out their own personal connection to the story, to the survivor, to the Holocaust, and to injustice on a larger scale.
As a coalition of survivors and students, we stand together to ensure that these injustices are never silenced by history and evermore remain alive. We honor those who are bearing witness alongside those who have survived to tell their stories. We stand here today to commemorate how the lives lost have bred a multiplicity of witness experiences. We have become a family of witnesses. It is a family that we celebrate, as together; we have begun to bear witness.
I come from a history of Holocaust victims. But my first encounter with this space, a space of interactive witnessing, was ignited when I met Eva. Eva is an aura of luminescence. Her smile that radiates through tragedy is complemented by an unparalleled determination to embrace life. I was blessed to be touched by her beautiful soul. It was my engagement with Eva’s narrative of survival that brought me to genuinely internalize the notion of bearing witness. Her whole life was taken away. She described how she was stripped of her clothes, of her shoes, of her hair, and of her family, but never her education. The strong soul that is Eva was able to recognize how education is something that can never be taken away from you. Eva helped me to cultivate a sense of intentionality in my life. In every decision, in every action, and in every moment I now strive to be intentional. Together Eva and I, the 85 students and 22 survivors, are bearing witness.
Although I didn’t realize the gravity of the moment as I sat with Eva at a table at the Hillel at my university, eating a simple lunch on a pleasant Wednesday afternoon, her words would illuminate how the everyday is extraordinary. We do not know the power of the moment, until the moment has passed. It is a great strength of humanity to recognize how little details of significance have to line up in order to create something bigger. These moments of collective witnessing can be transformed into a new narrative of the Holocaust. There are lots of possible futures that we play a strong hand in shaping. And together, by committing to actively adopting the anecdotes of the Holocaust into our own, we can and will engage in a future with a little less injustice. As a family of witnesses we must take on this responsibility. Together we must bear witness.
Please watch this public service announcement to learn more about the essence of the Bearing Witness Program
Post Submitted By: Ashton