Australasian Union of Jewish Students

 

 

Testimony of Lexi Kowal

 

 

Overview of Grandmother’s Story:

Born into a loving and cultured family of great musical talent, my grandmother Mara’s life changed forever at the mere age of eight.

Until this age, she had never experienced anti-semitism. In 1938, this quickly changed, as the Iron Guard began to organise a pogrom to wipe out the Jewish residents. They assembled in a sports arena, dress in black pants and royal blue shirts, donning a swastika on their left arm. Mara was hidden with her family in the basement of a synagogue, narrowly surviving the event.

In 1940 Mara’s family travelled to visit a family member in Kishinev. Shortly after arriving, the Soviet Union invaded the region, and Mara’s family were not permitted to return home. They were forced to live there until the German invasion in 1941.  Her father was taken away to fight in the Russian army, never to be seen again. Mara, her mother and three siblings were transported, through nightmare journeys, to several work camps in the geographic invention of Transnistria, north of Romania. In the camps, Mara was forced to build a “swimming pool”, used to drown children inmates.

Every day Mara dreamed of escaping, as she watched people transported from the camps of Transnistria. She later found out that these transports were sent to Auschwitz for extermination.

As the war neared its end, the German’s began to retreat from the region. In an attempt to hide the evidence of their deeds, the German’s detonated the work camp. Mara, age 12, was the only survivor of her family. She was meant to have died in the explosion, but in a miracle, she later emerged from a coma in the Russian city of Rostov, thousands of miles away, with no memory of how she got there.

 

Life Influence

I recall the first time that I visited Yad Vashem at age 12. The figures, the faces and the facts were laid before me. To remove myself from this reality, to learn of it as history alone, had been possible up until this moment - but now, as the artefacts and remnants of destruction became tangible, the reality of my family’s history was inescapable.

And yet, amongst all the sorrow and tragedy that was learning of the atrocities that my grandparents endured – of learning what mankind can do in the darkest of times – one lesson spoke loudest: perseverance is the key to existence.

My grandmother’s story is a true story of perseverance. I owe my presence in this world to her endless determination to survive, despite all odds.

The Jewish people were meant to be wiped out in the atrocities of the Holocaust – yet, their faith and determination to endure, and continue as a people, was the key factor that permitted their survival.

There is no challenge too testing, no mountain too high, that cannot be overcome through the mere act of perseverance and hope.

The phrase "a lesson to be learned and a tragedy to behold" has been indelibly attached to the Holocaust. As a descendant of a survivor, my lesson is: persevere.  

 

Message to share

We live in a world where Holocaust denial is rampant. A generation will soon come of age having never heard firsthand testimony from a living Holocaust survivor. As our collective memory of the Holocaust fades into oblivion, we must be active in preserving its memory.

Yet, it is not just the memory of the Holocaust that must prevail. We must cling to the lessons that emerged from these horrific events. We must call out injustice at every opportunity. We, the future leaders of society, must engage in political discourse, and ensure that intolerance does not thrive.   

 

An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.