Just a few days ago, the world lost one of its greatest Holocaust heroes - and you've probably never even heard of him: Felix Opatowksi. Today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it's only fitting that I share his memory - and introduce you to the memories he has shared to prevent another Holocaust.
Anti-Semitism has vehemently returned to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust.
Amid a sense of siege and emergency, there is talk of a mass exodus of Jewish people – Europe's oldest ethnic minority. Look at Paris. And Brussels: Four people murdered in the Jewish museum ... a synagogue ... firebombed. In London, a major supermarket forced to remove kosher food from its shelves for fear that it would incite a riot.
These are but a few examples. But after what happened during the Holocaust, I shouldn’t have any examples.
So let's use Felix's book - and his resiliency and perseverance - as an example to set moving forward.
Awhile back I was asked to participate in a book defending debate. I chose Gatehouse to Hell: The Felix Opatowski Story. But there was a problem. It wasn't available at the bookstore. So, I was told I had to choose a new book. Instead of choosing a new book, I chose to make it available at the bookstore. So how did I plan to defend the book and win? Well, after that, I already won.
Gatehouse to Hell is a candid and heart-rending account of a teenage boy who comes of age during the Holocaust, putting himself at risk to help others, forming bonds of friendship and holding onto hope for the future. Remarkably, at times he takes us through this horrific experience with the ability to cloak poignancy with humour.
The first time I read this book I was vacationing on the beach in Hawaii. In fact, that was probably the first time anyone read a Holocaust book on the beach in Hawaii.
The thing is, we owe it to the Jews who died to read these sorts of books or they will have died in vain. And we owe it to the Jews who survived to read these sorts of books, or we will have lived in vain.
By writing this story, Felix liberated himself – and has liberated the Jewish people, by making it possible for us to share this story of the dark part of our history to connect with our past and prevent it from repeating itself … Prevent that dark future that we can already see…
My mother was born in Austria shortly after World War II. Her parents both survived the Holocaust – physically. Mentally and emotionally they were both casualties. I am first-generation Canadian on my mother’s side. And, fortunately, I’ve enjoyed all of the unique freedoms that come as a citizen of Canada. Unfortunately, I’ve also been haunted by the Holocaust. It is through its scars that I look at the world.
A few years back when I found myself at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, I ended up giving a tour to a group of tourists. I was not a guide however. And it was only my first time at the museum. But, as a Jewish girl, I could speak to those tourists like no other Jew there, because I could speak German. Yes. I gave a group of non-Jewish Germans a tour through the Holocaust, in a way they had never seen, in a way many would not imagine. Then last November, I found myself again at Yad Vashem. This time, I was able to walk through with my own thoughts. Every time I looked at an artifact that belonged to a Jew from the Holocaust: a shoe, a thimble, a piece of cutlery, a yellow star … I wondered if that particular item belonged to my Bubby or Zaidie or any of my family members who were brutally taken.
While these memories are scars of our past, our present is not only aggravating these scars, but also marking new wounds.
In a way, we are closer than ever to another Holocaust. And now I ask you: Has never again become again and again … ?
Looking at what’s happening in Europe right now … Is anyone really taking action against it? Now, imagine if no one would have taken action against Adolf Hitler when he began his attempt to rid the world of the Jews. Oh, wait … No one did.
May the memory of Felix Opatowki be a blessing.