The Tiverton Public Library held a special event on Monday night, featuring stories from Holocaust survivors following a restaurant in the town sharing an anti-Semitic meme last month on its Facebook page.
The story of the Atlantic Sports Bar and Restaurant posting a meme with a photo of Holocaust victim Anne Frank with the caption “It’s hotter than an oven over there…and I should know that! ” went viral. WBSM was the first to publish the story just days after the controversial publication, but it has since been picked up by national and international media, and even led Yelp to temporarily ban Atlantic reviews from its platform.
Even though restaurant and owner Messias Dias have each posted an apology on Facebook – Dias taking responsibility for a ‘friends only’ post on his personal page and citing ignorance of who Anne Frank was because he gave up on the school at 13 to work – many are unwilling to forgive and forget. The more than 50 people in attendance who filled the library meeting room on Monday evening seemed proof of that.
State Representative John Edwards, whose district includes Tiverton, hosted the event and was motivated by the anti-Semitic Atlantic post.
“When I was reading it, I thought, ‘I can’t believe this is happening in Rhode Island,'” Edwards said. “I was embarrassed because I couldn’t believe this was happening in my city and in my district. I was shocked.”
Edwards wrote an opinion column that was published in the Journal of Providence and set up Monday’s schedule.
“I learned a long time ago, and I said the same to my kids, when bad things happen, you can’t shut up,” he said. “Silence is what allows bad things to happen, and it allows bad things to continue to happen.”
Wendy Joering, executive director of the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center in Providence, introduced the evening’s two guest speakers: 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alice Eichenbaum and second-generation survivor Lilliane Birch, whose mother was imprisoned in Auschwitz for three years.
“Alice Eichenbaum and Lilliane Birch, you probably don’t know this, but you’re two of my heroes,” Joering said. “Awe and gratitude don’t even begin to describe how I feel for them.”
Alice Eichenbaum, 94, shares her Holocaust survival story
Eichenbaum called herself “one of the lucky ones” because she wasn’t put in a concentration camp, but she was still sent to live in one of the Jewish ghettos. Born in Vienna, Austria, she grew up in Bulgaria before being deported to the ghetto.
She spoke at length about her husband, Raymond, who was born in Poland and sent to the Lodz ghetto, the second largest ghetto behind Warsaw. She spoke of him working nine hours a day in a tannery, making belts for German soldiers, only to be given a loaf of bread to share with his family.
“After four years in the ghetto, in very inhumane conditions, at age 14 he was sent to Auschwitz,” Eichenbaum said. “By a twist of fate, he was spared the furnaces. He didn’t stay there too long, but the two or three months he spent there made quite an impression that he will remember for the rest of his life. He never, ever forgot the screams of the people, the screams, the smoke from the chimney and the burning of human flesh.
Raymond was eventually released, but weighed only 55 pounds at the time; the only surviving member of his family, he spent time in orphanages in New York and Chicago before moving into foster care in Providence. He then fought in the Korean War, then went to college and became a chemist.
“He always said, ‘So Hitler didn’t win, we made something of ourselves,'” Eichenbaum said.
She said Raymond believed God must have spared his life for a purpose, so he dedicated his life to sharing his story and educating children about the horrors of the Holocaust through the creation of a memorial to the Holocaust. Holocaust and an educational center.
“He said, ‘I dream that one day many yellow buses will line up in front of the education center, and we will teach the children about what happened during those horrible years of our lives,'” he said. Eichenbaum. “His dream has come true. Hundreds of thousands of children have been through it, and we teach them how to be more tolerant, what suffering means, and what horrible years of time it has been through.
She said she started sharing her story after he passed away and hoped that after he passed away, her sons and granddaughter would continue to do the same.
“I hope they will continue the work of their father and their grandfather and tell people about the suffering they went through, that they should be more tolerant and understand that we are all people in this world,” she said.
Lilliane Birch shares the story of her mother, Anka Nachtigal
Next, Birch shared horrific stories and photos of what her mother endured at Auschwitz early on in her journey to the concentration camp.
“They were crammed into cattle cars tighter than the proverbial sardines, with no food, no water, no toilets,” she said. “The frail and old died on the journey, and with no place to rest their bodies, the dead swayed among the living.”
Birch said an act of kindness earlier in her mother’s life ended up saving her life when she arrived at the concentration camp.
“When people arrived at Auschwitz, they were sorted into two lines: the line to live and the line to die,” she said. “My family has been lined up to die.”
However, instead of being ushered into the gas chamber, Anka was stopped by a young woman registering people at a table and handing out striped pajamas to the prisoners.
“It turned out that it was a girl from my mom’s high school who had been bullied, and my mom called it quits and befriended her,” Birch said. “They hadn’t seen each other for about seven years, but when she walked past, the woman looked up and said, ‘Anka, is that you? You were the only person who was nice to me in high school and I won’t let you die.'”
However, Anka became a subject of Dr. Josef Mengele’s senseless medical experimentation as he attempted to sterilize young Jewish women.
“He had this great idea that if he could figure out how to sterilize young Jewish women, there would finally be an end to the Jewish ‘problem’,” Birch said. “He chose my mother to be part of this experiment.”
“She was experimented with drugs, with injections, with everything Dr. Mengele could think of,” she said. “In fact, she was told afterwards that she could never have children, so I’m in my way of being a miracle.”
Birch spoke of the brutality of the Nazi guards, such as when her mother was swinging in the roll call line due to her extreme hunger, and a guard threw a five-gallon can at her in pain, hitting her in the neck. Another time she stood in line during the winter months, she was forced to strip and tied naked to a pole in the freezing cold for 24 hours.
Birch said that when she was around nine or 10 years old, her mother started telling her stories about her concentration camp years.
“I asked her what made her survive, and why would she want to live when every day was so incredibly awful,” Birch said. “She said the only ones who survived were those who had hope.”
When Birch asked her mother what gave her hope, she recounted two incidents that she called “virtually miraculous”.
One involved that the 100 women living in Anka’s peculiar barracks were forced to dig a shallow pit and then stand with their backs to the pit. The guards then took their guns and fired at the women as they fell back into the pit.
“And when the dust settled, 99 out of 100 women were dead. The only one who survived was my mother, and not only was she not killed, she was not even injured or grazed by a bullet,” Birch said. “The guards were so stunned by this that they just let her go.”
She said another time she tried to pass loaves of bread to other prisoners when guards grabbed her and launched the attack dogs at her. Anka was convinced that this was the end.
“The dogs came up and stopped, and not a single dog put a paw on him,” Birch said. “When the guards caught up with the dogs, again the surprise factor worked in my mum’s favor and they let her go.”
Anka was released on January 27, 1945 – her 27th birthday. Although she developed tuberculosis, Anka and the other members of her family marched from Auschwitz to Krakow.
Eventually she met and married Birch’s father, and Birch was born when the family was in France trying to get to the United States. Because Anka would not be allowed to enter the country with tuberculosis, she used her sister’s x-rays to gain admission to the country, first sent to Canada before the family eventually ended up in the United States. .
Farewell words from US Representative David Ciccilline
US Congressman David Ciccilline concluded the event by re-addressing the controversy with the Atlantic Sports Bar and Restaurant.
“Thank you all for being there. It’s really a statement about this community and a response to these events,” he said. “I think it’s important to recognize that the Anti-Defamation League has found that in 2021 we saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded since the organization began recording them in 1979 – more than 2,700 incidents targeting the Jewish community last year.”
“You think this stuff doesn’t happen in Rhode Island, but we had neo-Nazi rallies in February outside the library in Providence, we posted neo-Nazi recruiting flyers last month in East Providence,” a- he declared. “So I think when we have events like this, it’s an opportunity to remind people of the pain and the suffering and the horror of the Holocaust and the devastation that happened, but that’s also just a teaching moment for people who may be ignorant and say horrible, stupid, awful things because they don’t understand the pain it causes.
“I think we all have a responsibility to be kind and to respect every person in our community, to recognize that everyone is valuable, to recognize that the only thing that can defeat hate is love and d to be a constantly growing community. this,” he said. “And especially to be a community that is ready to speak out when you see the hate and the intolerance and the bigotry and the racism and the anti-Semitism.”
“We all have a responsibility to speak up,” he said. “Silence is the thing that makes these emotions cause real harm.”