The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh received a reflective response from Ava, a high school senior at Woodland Hills High School, following the shooting at Tree of Life, Or l’Simcha Synagogue last weekend. In her writing, Ava expresses her reaction to this tragic event, and we hope that her words will help others to ask themselves difficult questions and process unfathomable acts of violent hatred. If you have any questions and would like to reach out to us, the staff at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh are here to help, whether it be with teaching resources or more information about the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
No field trip was as profound as the excursion to the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. Upon our arrival, we were given background information about the Holocaust, told about the organization’s mission, and then asked to sit down for our speakers. A German college student gave us a presentation about his town and his ancestral ties to the Nazi regime; a woman told us about her father’s journey from a Jewish orphanage in Germany to New York City, and then an elderly man took his place at the podium, his lips slightly parted with a nurturing grin while his legs quivered beneath him.
He spoke of his youth in Czechoslovakia, of his family, of his town and his faith and his joy.and how it was all stripped away from him by Auschwitz and the rise of the Hitler. After his fruitless years of anguish in the camp, he searched for his family, hoping they were safe, hoping to replenish his tarnished soul with their love. They were nowhere to be found. Later, he realized that the withering ashes that clouded the skies of Auschwitz that so often clogged his breath cradled the remains of his beloved older sister and her infant baby.
When he finished telling his tale, my eyes were filled with tears. Not because of his dead family members, and the torture that him and so many others were forced to endure in those dreadful camps-no, I did not shed tears for those things, although they were sickening beyond belief. I shed tears for the tender smile he gave us when he was through, and the dazzle of hope in his eyes when he told us that we, mere high school students, could make a difference by simply accepting one another. How, after years of dehumanization, years of injustice and unfathomable tragedy, did his spirit remain good? How, after his time in the Holocaust, did he have the wherewithal to bestow others with peace and courage?
When the names were released from the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting months later, I frantically searched for his. I did not find it. What I did find were people around his same age, people who survived through the anti-semitic strain of the Second World War, who dismissed the rage and darkness inside of them and chose to bestow the same goodwill and harmony upon others.
Their worst fears came to fruition when they were killed. The darkness that they thought had been vanquished so many years ago prevailed, and turned its back in vain on the good deeds and goodwill they practiced daily. Did the gunman look his victims in the eye before pulling the trigger? Did he see the purity and righteousness of their hearts? Did he pay any mind to the many souls that these eleven people touched? When he saw the blood staining the pews, did he think of the things that these people still had left to accomplish, the many years that these people lived and had yet to live? What reason, what logic, what culture allowed him to do this?
We are so grateful that Ava shared her thoughts with us. We welcome more responses from other local students and educators, in the hopes of starting meaningful conversations, generating healing, and connecting all to the lessons of history and the Holocaust. We hope you will look forward to more blog posts and that you will explore our resources here at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.