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Yad Vashem Seminar

From the balcony outside my classroom at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, the rolling hills of Jerusalem seemed endless. Clouds drifted lazily above, casting patchwork shadows on the expanse of breathtaking land. All this awe-inspiring beauty intermixed with the ancient history surrounding me was nearly impossible to take in fully during an eight-day seminar. But the hardest to comprehend (and will always be the hardest) was studying the Holocaust. The Holocaust lectures ranging from The Final Solution and its Implementation to Confronting Holocaust Denial left me with a plethora of notes and a heavy heart. I've been studying the Holocaust for years, but being in Israel made it all the more emotional and personal for me as we focused deeply on personal stories of both survivors and victims.


Tommy Fritta wasn't even a year old when he was forced in the Terezin ghetto with his parents. All he had known up to his third birthday was starvation and persecution. His father, Bedřich was an artist and created a colorful picture book called, "To Tommy, for His Third Birthday in Terezin, 22 January 1944" which told adventure stories of Tommy going off to far away places. It was an act of resistance on Bedřich's part to create a present for his son in the midst of so much darkness and evil. 

 "And what would you like to be? An engineer? Or a painter? We're off on our travels - somewhere cold or somewhere warm?"
© Thomas Fritta-Haas

This book is all Tommy has left of his parents who were murdered in the Holocaust. 


"My mommy, daddy bedudu!"
© Thomas Fritta-Haas
During our guided tours around Jerusalem we would see the beautiful, innocent faces of Jewish children and I couldn't help but think of Tommy whose early life was defined by the Holocaust. After studying why the Holocaust happened, I'll still never comprehend why. I'll never understand the hate.

Lecture after lecture, my heart broke more and more. Thankfully, we had breaks in-between lectures where I could get outside and let the sunlight rejuvenate my spirits. I could see Jerusalem spread before me and I felt hatikvah—the hope of Israel.  



During our sessions on Holocaust Art, Holocaust Literature, and Cultural and Spiritual Resistance, I was in awe of how unbreakable people can be. To create art and literature in the midst of so much despair, when you're starving and exhausted, took so much courage. 

"The seed of a creative idea does not die in mud and scum. Even there it will germinate and spread its blossom like a star shining in the darkness." — Petr Ginz 1928-1944



Petr Ginz and his sister in Prague before the war - Copyright: Vad Vashem
Youths like Petr Ginz resisted the Nazis with their ability to laugh, love, and create beauty. They also used their creative talents to show the world what was happening, to bear witness. The Nazis took away their family, friends, homes, everything. But there was one thing the Nazis couldn't take away—their human spirit.

"Let us, even in the ghetto, spite the enemy and go on living and building ... death may come tomorrow but today we will live ..." —Mark  Dworzetsky

I had the opportunity to meet two Holocaust survivors—Eva Lavi and Yehudit KleinmanHearing their testimonies was one of the (many) memorable and powerful experiences during my trip. Elie Wisel said: "When you listen to a witness, you become a witness."

Yehudit Kleinman is originally from Italy and went into hiding during the Holocaust. She was 5 years old when her mother and grandmother were taken away. Only years later did she learn they were murdered at Auschwitz. Yehudit survived the war and came to Israel at age seven, not knowing anyone. Despite the heartache and fear, Yehudit said she never lost her hope.



I met Eva Lavi at Oskar Schindler's grave on Mt. Zion. Eva is the youngest Schindler survivor and there's a scene in Schindler's List that shows her as a child. As the Nazis separate her from her mother, Schindler saves her by telling the guards that he needs her small fingers to operate machinery. There's something so special about interacting with Holocaust survivors. After all Eva went through, she radiates hope. And hope is contagious!


The seminar at Yad Vashem left me in a tangled mess of emotions—excitement, sadness, hope. I left Israel clinging to hope because I saw a beautiful land with beautiful people who built themselves up after incomprehensible suffering.



But the greatest form of Jewish resistance is this: They have children and grandchildren. Hitler doesn't. 


Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two millennia,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

-Emily