Every Holocaust survivor’s story is different and each experience unique. The testimonies remain powerful and relevant, as they bring history alive beyond books. Etta O., a client of the Alpert JFS Holocaust Survivors Assistance program, recently shared her Holocaust experience with students at Independence Middle School. The child of a Russian Army officer lived in Odessa with her parents and an older sibling. A neighbor alerted the family that the Germans were coming, and they soon found themselves in the Jewish ghetto. In a year, they were sent to a work camp for two years.

The students sat, rapt, as Etta recounted memories of her time in captivity: helping her mother while she worked in the camp kitchen; being beaten and burned by the cigarette of an angry soldier who found her asleep; returning to the city she was forced to leave, with no home or offer of assistance from former neighbors who feared for their own lives if they helped a Jew.

After Etta married and had children, the family moved to America as refuseniks (people in the former Soviet Union who were refused permission to emigrate, particularly a Jewish person forbidden to emigrate to Israel). They knew no English, yet within mere weeks, she and her husband were working. She had been a midwife in Russia; upon coming to the U.S. Etta became a nurse’s aide, then an LPN, and, ultimately, a physical/massage therapist.

She rebuilt her life, weaving a story of survival and strength. Like those of other survivors, her deeply personal and moving story transcend the years since the war. We are grateful for their voices, which are preserving memories for future generations. The resilience that she and other survivors of the Shoah exhibit are a life lesson for everyone!

Etta’s care manager said, “Watching Etta share her story with the students over Zoom was an inspiring experience. Though her memories are painful, Etta remains joyful when connecting with young people, to whom she conveys hope. Their interest and attentiveness provide her with meaningful validation.”

Ever the optimist, Etta shared, “I would like young people to remember who they are, what happened in the Holocaust, be good to each other, and respect each other. Always smile, no matter what is going on, and life will be much better.”

Please visit www.AlpertJFS.org/for-seniors-holocaust-survivors-assistance to learn more about the Holocaust Survivors Assistance program.

We here at Platinum Select Nursing are proud to support and participate in the Holocaust survivor program with AJFS.