NEWS

Israelis worried that Holocaust may one day fade from memory

04/15/2015 03:00 EDT | Updated 06/25/2015 02:59 EDT
In Israel, a country increasingly worried that memories of the Holocaust are fading, there is a group of Grade 9 students who offer some hope.

A Hebrew class at Hakfar Hayarok High School in Ramat HaSharon, north of Tel Aviv, is producing a drama production based on the stories that emerged from one of the worst atrocities in human history.

"Every year you have a ceremony and they say, this happened and this happened and there was a Holocaust. Every year. Over and over," says Amit Nizri, one of the 14 year olds behind the production.

"You light candles, but you don't actually hear the stories."

Thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day here in Israel, and a poll earlier this week suggested fewer than half of Israeli's have even met a Holocaust survivor, and that a large majority feel the event is fading into history.

At Hakfar Hayarok, the Grade 9 class was inspired to write its production after meeting three elderly victims of the Nazi regime.  

The play begins with the three appearing on a video screen telling their stories. Then the student actors take over.

The storyline focuses on four Jewish teenagers living in Poland when the Nazis invaded.

There are scenes with the friends laughing while enjoying a game of cards, before they end up in a concentration camp.

Emotion is ripe as the students act out the brutality at the hands of German soldiers.

Hard to relive ordeal

Inbal Lizorik teaches Grade 9 at Hakfar Hayarok. Her grandparents survived the Holocaust so she's heard the difficult stories firsthand.

"If we don't talk about it, and we don't talk about people that didn't kill, but didn't do anything, if we don't teach these kids that you see someone in trouble you have to help him, then the world would be a very, very bad place," she says.

Yehudit Moskovitz, one of the survivors who met with the students, said it was difficult for her to relive her ordeal.

She spent four years in a German concentration camp in present-day Ukraine, released when she was 10 years old. Her mother died of typhoid soon after being imprisoned.

"My children didn't know my stories until the last two years. I never told nothing. And even now I'm running away from the stories because after that I cannot sleep. The biggest problem, I cannot sleep."

Moskovitz said she was convinced to open up after she started coming to a community centre in Tel Aviv run by a group known as AMCHA, an organization that supports Israeli Holocaust survivors.

"They really pressured us to tell the story because they tell us all the time, 'you are the last generation. If you will not tell the story nobody will know about it. It could repeat itself.'"

Every year, as more survivors pass away, concern about how Israel will preserve the memories of the Holocaust grows.

Six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War, and today there are 189,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel.

On average, 14,000 die every year, according to a report from the Foundation for the Benefit Holocaust Victims in Israel.

Need to remember

Also worrying is a poll that came out this week that found that 81 per cent of Israelis believe that in a few years the Holocaust will become little more than another chapter in Jewish history.

Colette Avital, who chairs the Centre of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, which commissioned the poll, called that finding "astonishing."

"I think that probably we have to think today much more of the Holocaust not only in terms of history," she says, "but also its moral implications."

Avital cited the mass killings of Armenians following the First World War and Rwandans in the mid-1990s as further reasons why the atrocities committed against the Jews of Europe during the Nazi regime cannot be forgotten.

"I think our message, as Jews who have gone through this horrific kind of experience, is that we have to try to do everything in our power to prevent such mass murders in the future," she says.

Israel teaches the Holocaust throughout elementary, middle and high school.

Many Israeli students visit the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. But 46 per cent of Israelis under 29 have not met a survivor in person, according to the same poll.

That's why many, including student Amit Nizri, are calling on the Israeli government to change the way the Holocaust is taught here.

"It doesn't really get to the emotional. It's a bit more formal than it needs to be, not hearing the stories. It needs to get closer to our heart so you can understand better."

MORE:cbcNews