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TABC Features Dr. Moshe Avital at Annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration

In addition to a candle-lighting ceremony, musical performances, and a poem read by a student, the annual student-led TABC Yom HaShoah program on April 12 featured guest speaker and Holocaust survivor Dr. Moshe Avital. Dr. Avital shared his firsthand testimony of the horrors he experienced and emphasized the importance of never letting the memory of the Nazis’ atrocities be forgotten.

The program began with a morning bell sounding through the school’s halls, after which everyone in the building stood silently in memory of the six million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust. Students and faculty then made their way to the shul, where senior Shlomi Helfgot shared remarks on the importance of Holocaust education and preserving the memories of those whose lives it claimed. At a traditional candle-lighting ceremony, a number of students shared personal stories and reflections about their grandparents’ stories of survival. Senior Shimshon Klyman shared a self-penned poem about the Holocaust, titled “A Father’s Request, A Son’s Mission.”

Dr. Avital was born in Bilke, in then-Czechoslovakia. When the war broke out, he, along with his family, was taken to Auschwitz, where he endured the savagery of the Nazi regime. During his speech he touched on his oppressors’ hostility and the brutal experience of living in a concentration camp. One of the most powerful parts of his speech was when he elaborated on what it was like to encounter the monstrous Josef Mengele upon his arrival at the camp.

“Tired, hungry, weak and frightened, we stood before the demon, Mengele,” Dr. Avital explained. “The women with children and the elderly he sent to the left immediately, to the gas chambers. At the time when we arrived we did not know what it meant, to the left or to the right; only a few days later did we unfortunately find out. The signal of his finger decided the fate of the Jews who arrived in Auschwitz, who would live and who would die right away. Those who were not annihilated immediately were destined to a long, tortured process that most of the time ended in death and murder.”

Dr. Avital was 14 years old when he stood before Mengele. Due to having a young appearance, Mengele was unsure where to send Dr. Avital and dwelled on the matter momentarily before finally sending him to the right and harsh labor. His father, however, was sent to the left.

“This was the last time I saw my father,” Dr. Avital continued. “May God revenge his death.”

Dr. Avital endured further physical abuse, starvation and arduous slave labor during his time in the camp. Through an iron will and strong spirit, he managed to survive the ordeal until he was finally liberated by American troops. After the war he came to the United States, where he studied at Yeshiva University. Later in life he would use his writing talents to author 16 books, most of which are about the Holocaust.

For students listening to Dr. Avital’s descriptions, the experience was stirring and emotional. Speaking with The Jewish Link, Helfgot shared his perspective: “To have someone who endured the concentration camps as he matured and as he developed as a person, to remain unbreakable and unshakable, to have a will of iron, that was something that I found to be extremely inspiring.”

Eitan Spiewak, one of the candle lighters, was affected as well: “The program is so moving every year. I think it’s important to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.”

Similarly, Yonatan Sturm, another of the candle lighters, shared, “This year, more so than others, being able to hear the different stories and the amazing speaker really brought the events of the Holocaust to life. It enables us to really connect ourselves to what it was like to go through those events.”

TABC’s Donna Hoenig and Marita Poline served as co-coordinators for the program.

By Adam Samuel

Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at adamssoapbox.com

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