By Rubin E. Grant
Esther Levy will never forget and she hopes no one else will, either.
Levy is a second-generation Holocaust survivor and heard stories of the horrifying events of the World War II tragedy from her mother, Tobi Kamornik Gerson, who lived through it.
“We can’t forget the lessons of the Holocaust,” Levy said. “Humanity can’t let something like that happen again.”
With that in mind, Levy will be attending L’Chaim 2019, honoring Holocaust survivors and their families.
L’Chaim (to life) is presented by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center in collaboration with Red Mountain Theatre Company. It will be held from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., Aug. 18, in the Jemison Concert Hall at the Alys Stephens Center.
“What makes this event important is it brings the memory of the Holocaust to the forefront,” said Levy, a board member of the BHEC.
One of the highlights of this year’s program will be the stories of survival from many different family perspectives.
The personal stories of survivors are the very reason for the BHEC’s existence and the core of the organization’s work statewide. The BHEC uses these stories to teach new generations about the consequences of hate and indifference.
Levy won’t be sharing her story, but she is one of the BHEC’s Guardians of Remembrance, a group of second- and third-generation survivors who ensure the stories and lessons of the Holocaust continue to live.
She has spoken about her mother’s experiences on a number of occasions in a variety of venues, particularly at schools and colleges.
A Horrific Journey
Gerson was 14 years old when WWII started and living in the small town of Szczercow in Poland. When the Germans bombed her hometown, her family traveled to safety in Lodz.
“They left home with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Levy said. “When they came back home, it was bombed so badly there was nothing but ashes.”
During a six-year period, Gerson went from a work camp in Praszka to the Lodz Ghetto to Auschwitz to Berlin, where she worked in a munitions factory, to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women.
Finally, in 1945, she made it to freedom in Sweden thanks to the Swedish Red Cross. Her parents, two sisters, a brother, a nephew and sister-in-law perished under Nazi rule. Only she and her eldest brother survived.
Gerson was 20 years old when she came to the United States with an uncle.
“She settled in Atlanta,” Levy said. “My father, Max Gerson, had emigrated to Atlanta before the war. He was from the same hometown in Poland. He was one of seven siblings and not one of them or any of their children survived.”
The pain and suffering was unbearable for Gerson.
“She did not like to talk about it,” Levy said. “At one point she decided to write it down. She started writing bits and pieces. I tried to do an oral history 25 years ago. We did some of that and I began researching.
“It’s an ongoing thing. I’m constantly asking questions. I have contacted the Holocaust Museum (in Washington, D.C.) and Yad Vashem (a Holocaust museum in Israel) for more information, trying to fill in some of the blanks.”
Levy has two older brothers, one in Atlanta and one in Memphis. She’s been living in Birmingham for 41 years, attends Temple Beth-El and speaks frequently about the devastating impact of the Holocaust.
“When I go speak at schools, I tell them to treat others with dignity and respect,” Levy said. “That’s the one thing I want them to remember – and some of these talks last for an hour – if they don’t remember anything else.”
Entertainment, Education, Recognition
L’Chaim will focus on some of that as well. It is the culmination of the BHEC’s annual fundraising campaign.
The program, a combination of entertainment, education and recognition, will feature The Magic Shtetl Klezmer Band under the direction of Alan Goldspiel and special entertainment arranged by Keith Cromwell of Red Mountain Theatre Company, including vocalists Cantor Jessica Roskin, Caleb Clark, Tracy Winborn and student performers from RMTC’s Conservatory.
A dessert reception will follow the program.
Tickets are $50 for adults and $25 for students and are available at bhecinfo.org/lchaim.
All fundraising proceeds are used to advance the mission of the BHEC, which is to keep the history and lessons of the Holocaust alive so that new generations will apply these lessons to their own lives and make a difference in the world for the benefit of all humanity.
For more information, contact BHEC at 795-4176.