In an inspiring talk about her death-defying past as a Holocaust survivor, centenarian Ella Blumenthal spoke about the future during the annual Holocaust Remembrance event sponsored by Am Yisrael Chai, virtually this year.
“People should never lose hope,” said the Cape Town, South African woman who has also been the subject of a documentary entitled, “I Am Here.” Blumenthal encouraged her audience to “focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.…Prejudice and bigotry only fuels hatred.” And, she warned, what happened to her in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s can happen again.
More than 800 people signed up for the virtual event which was held Jan. 23, just a week before International Holocaust Remembrance Day which was established on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, one of three concentration camps in which Blumenthal was held prisoner in the 1940s by the German Nazis. The other two were Majdanek near the city of Lublin, and Bergen Belsen, which is where Anne Frank died before the liberation of that camp in May 1945.
“Faith and Fortitude” was the title of the 15th annual Holocaust Remembrance event in Atlanta. A candle-lighting ceremony that highlighted Atlanta survivors opened the event. The ceremony also “remembers those who are no longer with us,” said Andrea Videlefsky, president and founder of Am Yisrael Chai in Atlanta.
South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein provided a d’var Torah, emphasizing that the “greatest response” to the Holocaust is the “continuity of the Jewish people…Holocaust remembrance isn’t about the past, but the future.”
Blumenthal, who had been hospitalized the week before the event, detailed her harrowing life starting with her birth in August 1921 in Warsaw. She was born into a religious family. Her father was a successful textile merchant. The youngest of seven children, Blumenthal talked about her “existence,” not “life” in the Warsaw Ghetto, often making difficult decisions that kept her and a few others – including niece Roma – alive.
After the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Jews who were left in the ghetto were rounded up and taken to either the death camp of Treblinka or to Majdanek, where Blumenthal was herded in a cattle car. That’s where her father died.
Several times, she said, she thought she would die in Majdanek, including once when she and Roma were actually steered into a gas chamber. But because the Germans wanted a group of 500 women, and Blumenthal was in a group of 700 women, an exchange was made between the two groups and instead, Blumenthal and Roma were sent to Auschwitz.
There she worked building roads. At several points, Roma was ready to give up and commit suicide on the electrified fences, but Blumenthal kept insisting they should try to live another day, then another day.
The young women were in Bergen Belsen when the camp was liberated by British soldiers. Blumenthal subsequently went to Paris and then Israel where she met a South African man who married her and took her to South Africa where she raised her family. “I decided not to let the past get in the way of my future,” she told her audience.
Am Yisrael Chai has partnered with the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust to take the Faith and Fortitude event to schools, starting Jan. 24.
As part of the Sunday event, Am Yisrael Chai provided an online exhibit room that traces Blumenthal’s footsteps from the Warsaw Ghetto to Majdanek, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, according to Videlefsky.
Although the film “I Am Here” will be released in U.S. theaters soon, sponsors and donors of the Faith and Fortitude event can receive a link to the film which will be followed on Feb. 6 by a live Q&A panel discussion with Blumenthal as well as with Jordy Sank, the film producer from South Africa. Other members of Blumenthal’s family, including her niece, Roma, will also be on the Zoom panel.
Videlefsky said “we couldn’t be happier with the response” to the program which was also available via an international link. “Ella’s message will be carried for a long time. She’s a true inspiration.”
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Ella Blumenthal
- Roma Blumenthal
- Andrea Videlefsky
- Am Yisrael Chai
- Holocaust Remembrance
- Holocaust Survivor
- Cape Town South Africa
- I Am Here
- German Nazis
- Lublin Germany
- Anne Frank
- Faith and Fortitude
- Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein
- candle lighting ceremony
- Georgia Commission on the Holocaust
- Warsaw Ghetto
- Jordy Sank