For the past 17 years, I’ve worked closely with local Holocaust survivors. They are among the kindest, most resilient individuals I’ve ever met, and they’ve touched my life personally and professionally in a profound way.
During this time of quarantine, anxiety and isolation, I call survivors once a week to see how they’re doing, make sure they have enough food and supplies, and invite them to try some virtual connecting via Zoom, like Jewish Community Services’ new online chair yoga class.
Aside from asking me how I’m doing and if my family is healthy, we talk about the stressors, as well as the positives, of our current situation.
Here are some of the observations they have shared with me, and given me permission to share with you:
- “The coronavirus reminds me of the Holocaust. We were petrified for our lives, trying to escape from the Nazis. Our enemy during World War II was Hitler, and his army killed too many. Our enemy today is the coronavirus, which can kill.”
- “People who were not in concentration camps [in Europe during World War II] were in hiding to survive. Today, we are also hiding from the enemy to survive, and we are alone because we cannot be with our families. During the war, food was hard to find. We had to wait in line just to have some bread. Today, we go to the markets and find that supplies are limited.”
- “Thanks to my parents and HaShem, we survived the Holocaust. We came to America in 1949. My brother and I grew up in Baltimore. We both married and have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Had we not come to America, none of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would be here.”
- “The coronavirus has brought together many wonderful family and friends via phone and Zoom. They check in frequently to see how we are doing and to go shopping for those who cannot leave their homes.“
- “Our wish today is to have the virus leave us as soon as possible. Scientists must develop a vaccine before we lose too many people. We lost six million during the Holocaust. We do not want to live through that nightmare again. Let us pray to God to help remove the virus forever. May God bless everyone and give us much health and happiness.”
- “You learn to make the best of it. You take it in stride. It could be a lot worse.”
- “What God arranges, that’s what he wants, that’s what he gets.”
- “I have a lot of hobbies — reading, knitting, jigsaw puzzles. During the war, we had to be resourceful on how to entertain ourselves. There was a shortage, but we adapted and we learned and managed.”
- “Look for a silver lining wherever clouds are blue. Remember, somewhere the sun will be shining for me and for you.”
- “Soon is a short word and it takes forever to get there.”
- “Don’t get married,” joked a survivor who has been married for 65 years, “and never go to bed angry. If you can find humor, that’s the main thing. And if you can find a wife like mine, you are lucky.”
I have learned a great deal from working with this group of people over the years, and there is still much we can learn from them and their life experiences.
Be well and stay safe.
Lisa Shifren is a Jewish Community Services Holocaust survivor specialist. JCS provides multiple services and supports to Holocaust survivors and their families in the Baltimore community, with the primary goal to allow survivors to remain independent in their homes and within their communities as they age.
Shifren has facilitated the Baltimore Holocaust survivor social club since 2003 and has photographed survivors for the past 13 years. She has created a body of work titled, “Grace. Dignity. Humility. Compassion: The Holocaust Survivors of Baltimore,” which has been exhibited in galleries and schools. This exhibition contains contemporary portraits, biographies and photos of the survivors when they were young. To see these portraits, visit www.lisashifren.com.