The Times of Israel
By Marissa Newman, January 27, 2015
With most eyes on Auschwitz, a more modest ceremony at the former death camp looks to the day the survivors are gone as anti-Semitism resurges
TEREZIN, Czech Republic — En route to Terezin, the bus marked “survivors” is mostly empty.
Arriving at the site of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, several dozen children lay candles in the shape of a Jewish star over the graves of their slain relatives at a more modest ceremony than the one taking place at Auschwitz, where the world’s eyes are turned as leaders mark 70 years since its liberation.
Weighing heavily in the air here is the dread that the survivors may not see the next round anniversary.
The candle-laying ceremony is “the best evidence, the best proof that there is a chance for a better life and future,” says Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel and survivor himself.
At Terezin, some 33,000 Jews were killed, and some 90,000 were deported to Auschwitz and Treblinka — the majority of which were subsequently murdered.
For an official commemoration of a wretched past, the ceremony is strikingly future-oriented, in part due to the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism and in part due to the depleting number of survivors.
Along the walkway to the camp memorial, grey-haired men and women pass the paintings of some of the 15,000 young children and teenagers who lived in the camp, strewn along the side of the path like laundry.
Over 90 percent of the child artists in the camp, infamous for serving as a front for the Nazis’ propaganda efforts — with concerts by Jewish musicians for visitors and art classes for the children inmates thinly masking its atrocities — did not survive.
Security during the visit is tight, with several police cars accompanying the buses entering the camp, and hundreds of cops deployed throughout. This year, due to the proximity of the commemoration to the Paris terror attacks, the buses marked “media,” or “survivors” are as heavily guarded as vehicles carrying politicians to the memorial.
Signaling a shift in Holocaust commemoration rituals, the first – and most lengthy – testimony is given over by the child of Terezin and Auschwitz survivors, Tomas Kraus, rather than a survivor.
Kraus, the son of Czech journalist František R. Kraus, a friend to Kafka and Max Brod, describes “two types of survivors.”
“One type is keeping it silent, these people do not want to mention anything which is even distantly related to their history. And then there are the others, who want to share everything, they want to scream out, they’re witnesses, and they want to warn the world. Never again was their mantra,” he continued.
“Both types I knew. The first was my mother. The second was my father.”
Kraus paid tribute to all victims of “terror and hate” but cautioned that in the present political climate, the legacy of the trailblazing witnesses to the Holocaust may be disappearing.
“What happened to that ‘Never Again’? Are we, the next generation, and the generation that will follow, are we able to fulfill their legacy?”
Felix Kolmer, a survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz, indirectly addressed the impending end of the era of the survivors by emphasizing that the last Nazis are dying out. In Germany, “the old generation, as old as we are, to which belong the criminal Nazis, is passing away,” he said.
Amid increased unrest in Europe, Kolmer urged dialogue between Jews and young Germans, and “understanding and cooperation in Europe.”
Similarly, Lau urged the world to combat terror and hatred, but stopped short of a fatalistic assessment.
The former chief rabbi pointed to the mass rally in Paris after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and HyperCacher kosher supermarket as a positive development.
“This march in Paris two weeks ago never happened in the 40’s. Leaders of states marching against terror, against violence, against bloodshed. Where was such a march,” he asked.
While speaking, Lau broke down in sobs while describing a recent encounter in Seattle with Leo Hymas, the man who liberated him from Buchenwald, and who came to apologize 70 years later for coming “too late.”
“The past you cannot change, but the future — make it better,” he said. “Don’t be too late.”