Connecting Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Red Cross

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Story by Mike Farrar, Greater Long Beach/Rio Hondo Chapters, RFL Mentor and Advocate and Volunteer for RFL and SAF

Holocaust Remembrance Day, what does that really mean? Well, the definition is as follows: January 27th, is an international memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of 6 million Jews, 2 million Gypsies (Roma and Sinti), 15,000 homosexuals and millions of others by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. For me, the importance of this day of commemoration and the World War II tracing work of the Restoring Family Links program at the American Red Cross was underscored by a recent trip to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum.

I had the opportunity to participate in our Red Cross “Project Youth” activity by taking a group of youth to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum on January 19th. Here we received a guided tour of the Museum from Priscilla Schneider, the daughter of two concentration camp survivors from Hungary. I was impressed at how focused the students were when listening to the details of the suffering inflicted during the Holocaust. It seemed whenever our guide would ask a question one of the students always had the answer.

When the tour was over, Holocaust survivor, Robert Geminder, came in to tell his story to the students. Mr. Geminder told us how he and his mother were put into a work camp in Poland. His mother would get to leave the camp each day to work at a local business. When they heard the camp was going to be shut down and everyone killed, she devised a plan for them to escape. One morning while leaving the camp for work, she hid her 5-year old son (Geminder) under her coat and walked out the gate. She hid him in a closet in a vacant building and told him to stay there quietly until she returned. Late that night, she snuck out of the camp, found her son, and together, they made their way to safety.

Later, I had a chance to talk with Ms. Schneider and ask her about her family and if she had ever thought about tracing her relatives back in Hungary. She told me that years ago she came to the Red Cross to have her family traced. She spoke about how emotional it was to come into our office and fill out a tracing form, especially knowing that her Grandparents never made it out of the camp. With the help of the Red Cross Network, she was able to either find everyone she was looking for or documentation on the fate of her loved ones.

After the presentation, I also spoke to Mr. Geminder. I introduced myself and explained to him what I do with the Red Cross. I told him that I would be writing a blog for the Restoring Family Links program’s recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day and asked him what Remembrance Day means to him. Mr. Geminder first told me that no one had ever asked him that question before. He told me that Remembrance Day is more than remembering the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets. It’s more about ensuring that people understand what really happened during those years. So Remembrance Day is not only for those who suffered during World War II, but also a sign that these atrocities should never be allowed again.