When Albert Farhy was 12 and growing up in Bulgaria, he wasn’t allowed to walk the streets after 9 p.m. He also was not permitted to shop at certain hours of the day or have a bar mitzvah.
One night, he looked outside his window to investigate what sounded like a buzzing sound coming from the streets. He saw crowds of people approaching his building, a mostly Jewish complex, yelling, “Death to America. Death to the Jews.”
“It felt like we were mice,” he said. “You could not escape.”
Farhy, now 88 and living in Pittsburgh, grew up amidst the rise of the Nazi regime in Eastern Europe. He was lucky, he says, because most Bulgarians helped the Jewish people.
“It was a time when you didn’t know tomorrow,” he said. “Commemoration [of the Holocaust] is very important. Never forget the people who died. There was a very good chance in 1943 that I would be among them.”
The walk, which was created by Jacki Savage Gelernter and organized by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and CDS, raised money for the Holocaust Center and to support Holocaust education at CDS. Organizers are still counting donations from this year’s walk.
Savage Gelernter, whose mother-in-law is a Holocaust survivor, said she organized the first Walk to Remember last year after learning of the impact her mother-in-law’s story could have. After one talk in a class for trauma counselors in training, Gelernter said the students were asked to write down their thoughts on Post-it notes as they left the class.
One read: “Through trauma, there is courage, bravery, strength and hope, and what I witnessed today changed my life for the better.”
That phrase inspired what would become the wording of the logo for the Walk to Remember — “courage, bravery, strength and hope” — and encouraged Gelernter to organize another event for Holocaust survivors to share their story and “help open the eyes of individuals.”
Avi Baran Munro, head of school at CDS, echoed the sentiment.
“There are students here, young students who have learned in the appropriate way to be upstanders,” she said. “We can take the lessons of our history and use them to empower the next generation.”
In Pennsylvania, more than 90 percent of the state’s school systems educate students on the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations, according to a November 2017 report. The report comes three years after the passage of Act 70, a bill that made free educational guidelines, resources and training available to schools through Holocaust and human rights organizations.
A recent national study, however, found 41 percent of millenials believe that fewer than 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust and 45 percent of Americans cannot name a single concentration camp. The study, commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and released in April, also found 58 percent of Americans believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.
On Pitt’s campus, the brothers of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity organized a silent walk and candle lighting ceremony and shared survival testimonies and biographies of victims of the Holocaust outside the student union for 24 hours.
Aaron Chumsky, the former Jewish identity chair for the fraternity, organized the event on April 11 and 12. He said the biographies and testimonies added a “personality” to each victim, making them more than just a name.
That personal connection is what makes people care, said Lauren Bairnsfather, director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. To create those connections, she continued, is important to hold community events, like the Walk to Remember, where members of the community can forge connections with one another and with survivors.
“The more we come together, the more I know that Holocaust education will continue,” she said. “It’s not just something that happened 75 years ago. It’s relevant now.” PJC
Lauren Rosenblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.