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On display at Germany’s embassy in Israel: portraits of Holocaust survivors that seek to reclaim their stories



TEL AVIV (JTA) — The first time Gidon Lev encountered Holocaust denial was after becoming an unwitting TikTok star at the age of 86.

“I was totally shocked. How could this be?” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about receiving dozens of comments accusing him of lying about the years in a Nazi concentration camp as a child.

“If only I was a liar,” he said. “Then I would have a father, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. I would have had a childhood.”

With half a million followers on the popular social media platform and 8.3 million likes, Lev says his message, of fighting hate and standing up for the oppressed, is a universal one. “The Holocaust is an example of just how cruel and horrible hate can get if you let it,” he said.

Now, his story is getting another showcase — on the walls of the German Embassy in Tel Aviv. Lev is one of 25 Holocaust survivors featured in a new exhibition titled Humans of the Holocaust set to open there on Wednesday, in a display timed to Yom Hashoah.

The Humans of the Holocaust exhibit at the German embassy in Tel Aviv. (Erez Kaganovitz)

“The significance of exhibiting on Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day at the German embassy in sovereign Israel is not lost on me,” said Erez Kaganovitz, the photographer behind the Humans of the Holocaust project.

Kaganovitz, who is based in Tel Aviv, said he launched Humans of the Holocaust as an offshoot of his Humans of Tel Aviv photo project several years ago after one photograph in the series went viral. (Humans of Tel Aviv itself is inspired by the landmark Humans of New York project.) The photo portrays four forearms — those of Holocaust survivor Yosef Diament, his daughter and his grandchildren — all tattooed with the same number. Diament’s family tattooed his Auschwitz inmate number as a tribute to him. Kaganovitz was shocked when commenters asked why someone would tattoo a barcode on their arm.

Around that time, Kaganovitz, the grandson of survivors who worked as a journalist and in government before turning to photography, came across a survey highlighting ignorance among young people about the Holocaust. The survey, commissioned by the Claims Conference, found that 66% of American millennials did not know that Auschwitz was a Nazi death camp.

At first, he said, the survey angered him. But then he realized that by the time he was in his late teens, and after having Holocaust education hammered into him from a young age, he didn’t want to have any connection to the Holocaust either.

“I thought if I don’t connect with it, why would someone from Lexington, Kentucky, want to engage with it?”

Kaganovitz has joined a growing coterie of photographers seeking to change the paradigm of “dark and gloomy” Holocaust-related material, of black-and-white stills, of unfathomable despair, of numbers too large to comprehend.

“I wanted to tell human stories with a global message, with optimism. Something that people could engage with,” he said, while stressing that by doing so he is not trying to whitewash or downplay the Holocaust atrocities.

That mission resonated with the German embassy. “We need to find new ways to engage the public and especially the younger generation,” German Ambassador to Israel Steffen Seibert said in a statement about the exhibition, which is billed as digital storytelling for a digital age.

Left; Photographer Erez Kaganovitz at work on his Humans of the Holocaust project. (Courtesy of Erez Kaganovitz); Right: Portrait of Michael Sidko, the last survivor of the Babyn Yar massacre, surrounded by bullets. (Erez Kaganovitz)

The photos are intentionally arresting, aimed at piquing people’s curiosity enough to stop them scrolling their feeds. One example is a portrait of Michael Sidko, the last survivor of the Babyn Yar massacre, whose head, which appears to be dismembered, is embedded in thousands of bullet casings. The image, which took six months to stage because of the complexity involved, aims to raise awareness about the 2 million people exterminated in the Soviet Union and Ukraine, the so-called “Holocaust by bullets.” In the text accompanying it, a quote from Sidko reads: “The sights, sounds, and smell of gunpowder still haunt me to this day.”

Another photograph features Dugo Leitner, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, clutching a yellow-gold balloon in the shape of a Jewish star with the word “Jude” on it. Leitner’s expression, like the rest of the photo, is a jarring blend of whimsy and enervation.

The pose represents one of Leitner’s attempts at reclaiming his story — along with his growing movement to make eating falafel an act of survival. “I am taking ownership of the symbol that turned me into a subhuman and turning it into an optimistic and smiling creation,” he said.

Among the images of elderly survivors, some with yarmulkes and some without, is a portrait of a woman in a black hijab with Quranic verses behind her. Leila Jabarin was born Helene Berschatzki in a concentration camp in Hungary. At 15, after fleeing with her family to Israel, she fell in love with a Muslim Arab with whom she eventually married. Jabarin, who did not share her identity with her children until they were adults, rejects particularism in her message to the world. “Hatred knows no boundaries. Once I was persecuted for being a Jew; now people are after me for being a Muslim,” she told Kaganovitz.

Lev’s own portrait features the TikTok star in front of a wall with the words “we were all once refugees” graffitied on it, a remnant of a raging dispute surrounding African migrants in Israel. Lev became a refugee at 3 years old when Hitler occupied the Sudetenland. He recalls the moment that he was forced to abandon his new red tricycle as marking his transformation into a “human without a country.” After his release from the Theresienstadt concentration camp at age 10, Lev would become a refugee in New York and later in Toronto, Canada. In 1959, he emigrated to Israel, “the only country that would have me, not as a refugee, but as a bonafide citizen.”

About 147,000 Holocaust survivors currently live in Israel, according to data released this week. Their average age is 85, and about 15,000 survivors died over the past year — a pace that is prompting innovations around the world in how the Holocaust is memorialized and taught about.

Kaganovitz is careful not to “coerce” his own knowledge about the Holocaust onto his viewers, he said. Both in their online format and at the exhibition, the photographs are accompanied by a short text to provide context and links are shared for further reading.

“I just want to bring them to the table for now. When you’re fighting for attention alongside all these celebrities that get millions of views, you have to make your content interesting enough,” he said. “Because if we don’t, it’s only a matter of time before 90% [of youth] have never heard of Auschwitz.”

The post On display at Germany’s embassy in Israel: portraits of Holocaust survivors that seek to reclaim their stories appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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