A conference scheduled for this spring in Toronto to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Holocaust survivors in 1945, is being postponed till next year because of the new coronavirus pandemic.
Liberation75 anticipated 3,000 attendees, including between 150 and 300 survivors, coming from Canada, Poland, Russia, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition, 7,500 students and 500 teachers were expected as guests. The conference was to start on May 31st.
The oldest survivor who had been scheduled to attend is 98, and many of the speakers are in their 80s.
“Hopefully, we will not lose too many of our survivors, who are coming as speakers, coming to work with children, and who will be one year older – and that’s always precarious,” said Marilyn Sinclair, the founder of Liberation75.
“We want to energize a whole new group of people about the importance of keeping the Holocaust relevant, in our memories, in the future, when there are no survivors.”
She said that young people who attend the rescheduled conference, which will still be called Liberation75, will have learned from the pandemic about isolation and deprivation, and the conference will celebrate resilience and being together.
Judy Cohen of Toronto, who is 91, and a survivor of Auschwitz, was a scheduled speaker. She is the author of a soon-to-be published memoir, called Sistering Survival, about her experiences. (The title is drawn partly from the help she received in Auschwitz, first from family members, and then from two other girls, enabling her to survive.) Four of her six siblings and both her parents were murdered in the Holocaust. She was from Hungary, where the Jews did not face deportation to death camps until between May and July of 1944. About 430,000 Jews were deported, largely to Auschwitz. Most faced the gas chambers when they arrived, according to the website of Yad Vashem, a Holocaust museum in Israel.
Ms. Cohen came to Canada as a seamstress in 1948, married in 1961, and has two children. She became a public speaker on the Holocaust after a confrontation in downtown Toronto with members of the Heritage Front, an extremist group, just as she turned 65 and retired from paid work.
She tells audiences that her personal story is not as important as the political process and acquiescence of civil society which lead to hatred and killing.
“It isn’t the horrors. It’s how you get to the horrors,” she said.
If she becomes ill with COVID-19, she expects that overwhelmed hospitals would give priority to younger patients.
“I am not going to get any treatment in hospital. I am ready for the scrap heap. That’s what I keep reading. I can understand that we’re not a priority. I had a nice long life, so I don’t complain.” She said she lives with a son, who has heart problems and is vulnerable in the pandemic. A volunteer from Temple Emanu-El in Toronto shopped for them, bringing them enough food and supplies for at least two weeks, she said.
Elizabeth Moore, a former member of the Heritage Front, who now speaks about the dangers of hate groups, had been scheduled to address teachers.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, “our lives are filled with fear, uncertainty and unprecedented isolation, which is leaving more people vulnerable to extremist messaging than at any other time in recent history," she said in an e-mail. Her focus was to have been on “how the lack of education about the Holocaust can lead to students being vulnerable to hate group recruitment.”