Coronavirus Offers Glimpse Into Future of Holocaust Remembrance

Gidon Lev knew exactly where he was supposed to be on Holocaust Remembrance Day this year.

The 85-year-old Ramat Gan resident usually goes into Israeli classrooms to share his Holocaust story with high school students, but this time it was going to be special. Instead of speaking in Israel, he was planning to travel to Santa Cruz, California, to address his grandson’s high school class – many of whom are not Jewish and are unfamiliar with the events of the Holocaust.

“My daughter turns 55 this year and I was going to go celebrate with her. Since it is near Holocaust Remembrance Day, we contacted my grandson’s school and they were very excited. I was supposed to speak to his whole grade and explain the background, geography and events of the era, and then I was going to go into the classrooms in smaller groups and tell the more personal stories.” 

The coronavirus radically changed those plans, as they have changed everything.

Lev won’t even be able to speak locally on Tuesday as the country stops to remember the Shoah’s victims and heroes. Age and, in many cases, fragile health have kept the survivors confined to their homes for both the past month and the foreseeable future. And even if he had been able to leave his home, the pandemic has led to the cancellation of all the traditional ceremonies and other gatherings. 

Gideon Lev showing students around Theresienstadt (Terezin), the ghetto/concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic, where he was held from ages 6-10 in 1941-1945. Julie Gray

“It’s a little sad – I actually get a great deal of satisfaction doing it,” Lev says in a phone interview. “I try to relate to the students on as personal a level as possible, make a real connection and make my experiences as real as possible for them – which I think I’m able to do as I was so young when I lived through it.”  

– Yad Vashem tweet

#YomHashoah is tonight
Have you joined the Worldwide Virtual Name Reading Campaign?

Upload a video of yourself or your family reciting Shoah victims names from here:

Upload your short video to social media using both #RememberingFromHome AND #ShoahNames

— Yad Vashem (@yadvashem) April 20, 2020

The lack of in-person testimony by survivors at Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations this year is particularly tragic at a time when they are becoming more rare and precious than ever before.