On Yom Hashoah, more commonly known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor the memory and bravery of the 6 million Jewish people who were killed in the Holocaust. To commemorate the day, Jews across the world host memorial events called Zikaron BaSalon, meaning “memories in the living room” in Hebrew, where survivors of the Holocaust share their stories and engage their communities in discussion.
This year the VCU Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program and Congregation Beth Ahabah hosted their own Zikaron BaSalon, featuring a testimonial from Jay Ipson, a Holocaust survivor and co-founder of the Holocaust Museum of Virginia.
The event, which took place on April 12th at the Beth Ahabah synagogue on Franklin St, attracted a crowd of both students and community members interested in learning about the Holocaust from a first-person perspective.
In 1941 when he was six years old, Ipson and his family were forced into the Kovno Ghetto, which was establish by Nazi Germany to hold the Lithuanian Jews of Kaunas. He spoke in detail to the gathered crowd the inhuman conditions in which he lived as a child, the trials his parents endured in the camps, and the loved ones they could not save.
“An order came that we should take our pets to the synagogue. There they slaughtered them, they skinned them, they took their hides and shipped them to the Russian front because it was so cold and the Germans were not prepared, so they shipped them for gloves and earmuffs, and the carcasses they fed back to us,” said Ipson.
For two years his family lived in the camp and narrowly avoided extermination, until one day a Catholic farmer that Ipson’s father had once done a few favors for offered to hide them in the country if they could escape the camp. On November 9th, 1943, under the cover of darkness, they cut a hole in the barbed wire that surrounded the camp and ran to the farmer’s waiting truck.
The Ipson family was sheltered by these farmers until the day of Day of Liberation, hiding underground in a modified potato hole for 90 days.
“We had nothing to give them. They risked their lives to save ours,” Ipson said.
According to Ipson, he was one of only 118 Jewish-Lithuanian children to survive the Holocaust.
Ipson related the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party to the current political climate in the United States and warned that Germany had a similar system of government before its leadership was taken over by a minority of extremists. He encouraged the gathered audience to become politically involved, saying the consequences for indifference could be an atrocity like the one he experienced.
“The Holocaust can happen in the United States and it’s our fault,” said Ipson.
Written by Megan Schiffres
May 3, 2018