Quarantine and travel restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 have forced Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is scheduled to begin Monday evening and end the following day, to be marked exclusively digitally for the first time.
Berthe Badehi, who hid from the Nazis as a child during World War II, became one of the many Holocaust survivors confined to their homes to escape the coronavirus.
“It is not easy, but we are doing it to stay alive,” said the 88-year-old woman about her current self-isolation at home in Israel.
“One thing I learned during the war was how to take care of myself.”
Movement and travel restrictions in place to contain the pandemic forced Holocaust Remembrance Day this week – Yom HaShoah in Hebrew – be exclusively digital for the first time.
In a normal year, symbolic events are held at various locations, including with survivors at European sites where the Nazis built concentration and extermination camps.
This year, testimonies of survivors will be broadcast online and presented at a pre-recorded ceremony to be broadcast in Israel by Jerusalem Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center, when Yom HaShoah begins Monday evening.
The limitations of the organization of events this year reminded that in the not too distant future, ceremonies with the survivors will no longer be possible because the last of them will be deceased.
“We have talked a lot about what happens when the survivors are not here,” said Stephen Smith, who heads the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California.
This week’s reduced commemorations “made us aware of what the future may look like,” Smith told AFP.
“It’s a test of our determination …”
“Perhaps this is an opportunity to say … that we will not get 10,000 people to Auschwitz, but maybe we will be able to attract a million people online,” he added, referring to the Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Poland.
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For survivors like Badehi, any comparison between the isolation of Covid-19 and the confinement of the Nazi era in ghettos and camps is inappropriate.
“In France, during the war, we lived in fear, we hid our identity and we lost contact with our parents …”
“Today we can be locked inside, but we have contact with our children and grandchildren by phone and the Internet,” added Badehi, who volunteered at Yad Vashem until it closed. because of the virus.
Dov Landau, a 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor, said that it was “indecent” to make comparisons between the two eras.
“Today, we are neither hungry nor thirsty. It is unlikely that men, women and children will be burned alive. Of course, I am bored … but that is nothing serious” , he told AFP.
He traveled regularly from Israel to Auschwitz to speak to school groups, but these trips were interrupted due to the pandemic.
Beyond the cancellation of educational events, Covid-19 posed a particularly serious threat to Holocaust survivors, given their age.
The virus “absolutely attacks the memory of the Holocaust because it attacks the elderly,” said Smith, adding that he was aware of several survivors who died from complications from the coronavirus.
“It also attacks our ability to (collect) these stories,” he said.
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‘Feeling of urgency’
The Shoah Foundation has developed an augmented reality application to document the journey through Europe endured by many Holocaust survivors.
One survivor whose experience was to be documented this year was Eva Schloss, whose mother married Anne Frank Otto’s father after the war.
Schloss “has an incredible history,” said Smith. “Very, very similar to Anne Frank, the only difference is that she survived.”
“She was literally in the kitchen watching Otto prepare the newspaper for publication,” he said.
Due to the pandemic, the foundation had to cancel its material collection projects with Schloss in Vienna, Amsterdam and Auschwitz.
The foundation is partnering on the augmented reality project with La Marche des Vivants, the leading educational program that brings young people to the sites of concentration camps.
Eli Rubenstein, a Toronto rabbi who leads the Living Canada March, said he had spoken to many survivors who insisted they would be available to give testimony next year.
“They are very strong people, full of optimism,” he told AFP.
But, he added, the delay imposed by the pandemic “gives us a new sense of urgency”.