Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chief rabbi
of Israel, with dinner chairman
David Halpern (left) and
Eli Zborowski, chairman of
American Society for Yad Vashem.

Single Story Powerful Enough
To Sweep Expanse of History

Story by Tim Boxer
Photos by
Melanie Einzig

T wasn’t until Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau came to the American Society for Yad Vashem’s annual dinner that he finally realized how to convey the horror of the Holocaust to the next generation: one story at a time.

The reason survivors kept quiet for decades following the war, he said, was because nobody could understand six million deaths. “It was too big a number to comprehend.”

Lau, at eight the youngest survivor of Buchenwald, said he picked up The Diary of Anne Frank when he was 10 years old. He wanted to see what everybody was talking about.

He was astonished. That’s all? The whole book, he thought, is not to be compared to one day in Buchenwald.

“Where is the concentration camp, the torture, the killings? I couldn’t understand why people were so excited about this book.”

When he got older, he realized that the book’s success lay in the fact that it didn’t speak about millions. It was a one person’s story. “With one human being you can identify.”

At the Yad Vashem dinner at the New York Hilton, Lau had his revelation. For the first time he understood what Yad Vashem means.

He quoted Isaiah: “I will give them…yad vashem,” a hand and a name.

“One hand, one name. If it is single it will convince you. You cannot bear millions of deaths, but one name you can understand.”

That was why Anne Frank’s diary was so powerful – it was the story of one individual. Anyone can identify with another single human being.

Lau urged the 1,005 dinner guests, most of them survivors, to transmit their stories to their grandchildren.

“Tell them how you lived in the shtetl, where nobody was homeless, nobody died of hunger, because doors were open, hearts were open. And tell them what happened to you in the Holocaust.”

Society chairman Eli Zborowski presented the Yad Vashem Young Leadership Remembrance Awards to Audrey and Zygmunt Wilf of Springfield, New Jersey, and Arie and Eva Halpern of Union, New Jersey.

Among the special guests were Czech Republic Consul General Ales Pospisil, Greece Consul General Dmitris Platis, Switzerland Consul General Raymond Loretan, Papal Representative Msgr. James Reinert, Poland Consul General Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszwewska, Hungary Consul General Gabor Horvath, Sweden Consul General Olle Wastberg.

Yad Vashem is the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority established in 1953 in Jerusalem by the Knesset.

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