Allison Hoff w Tom Rose LendaAllison Hoff is an 8th grader at Forest Ridge School and already a published journalist in the Kirkland Reporter.  After a trip to Poland that included a tour of Auschwitz, Allison was inspired to learn more and interviewed local survivor, and member of the Holocaust Center Speakers Bureau, Tom Lenda, about his experiences.  (Photo: Allison Hoff with Tom and Rose Lenda)

The Times Change and We Change With Them:
The inspiring story of a local Holocaust survivor
By: Allison Hoff


As we pulled up in the van I felt my heart beating. I was nervous—how could I begin to express my sorrow and pay my respects to the many souls that died in the Holocaust? As I climbed out of the car, I caught my first glance of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the famous sign, "Arbeit Macht Frei," or, "Work Makes You Free."


I was overwhelmed seeing the vast place for the first time. As I took my first steps on the grounds of the concentration camp, I thought about the many people who had stood there and never got to live their dreams and share their stories. I attempted to comprehend all the pain and suffering that was experienced not long ago, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around everything. I was flooded with inquiries as I walked through Auschwitz that rainy day in August.


Having been to Auschwitz, my perspective regarding not only past genocides around the world, but also current situations our world faces, such as the Syrian refugee crisis, has changed. After learning about how Jews were persecuted during the Holocaust, I can't help but make a connection to the way the Syrians are being treated now, particularly after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Seeing Auschwitz was a very meaningful experience for me, and it raised many questions. I wanted to learn more about the Holocaust from someone who had witnessed the concentration camps first hand to educate myself about how the lessons we have learned can be applied today.


I felt exceptionally privileged to have the opportunity to meet a Holocaust survivor with the help of his daughter, Hana Kern. Tommy Lenda lives with his wife Rose in the Seattle area and has written and published a book, Children on the Death Row, the Hate and the War. Mr. Lenda wrote his book under his given surname, Lustig, however his last name was changed after the war and the family has used the name Lenda since 1945. Mr. Lenda speaks frequently in schools to sixth graders, and although it can be emotional, he enjoys sharing his stories with the new generation. I was honored to be invited to his home to talk with him in person and hear his inspiring and motivational story. I knocked on his door one evening with my notebook in hand, nervous and eagerly awaiting our conversation.


Mr. Lenda began by describing to me how as a young boy, he entered Terezín, a concentration camp in the Czech Republic, in 1942 at the age of six. Young Tommy survived Terezín, and left when it was liberated in 1945 at age nine. From the ghettos, Jews were often taken to camps like Terezín before being sent to death camps like Auschwitz. Over 15,000 children inhabited Terezín at some point, but in Tommy's age group of children under nine years old, only 48 survived the Holocaust.


Little Tommy faced many frightening experiences at Terezín, but from our conversation I gathered that he doesn't just want people to pity him. He wants people to learn from what happened in the Holocaust and use that knowledge to make our world a better place. By sharing his story with students, Mr. Lenda has healed himself and found lessons in the Holocaust. "We must eliminate hate because it's usually the source of bad happenings," added Rose, Mr. Lenda's wife. Mr. Lenda explained to me that eliminating hate is something we can all do to make our world a better place, and it could be as simple as standing up to a bully or advocating for what you believe in.


As I left the Lenda's home, I thought about how we strive to learn from the painful events of WWII. It occurred to me that history doesn't always repeat itself in the same way. Certain aspects of a situation are often similar to something that has happened before, but we don't always make the connection.


Europe is currently being flooded with Syrian refugees seeking a new home, similar to how the Jews were seeking safety from anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, many see the Syrian migrants as potential terrorists. A brief article in the September 25th issue of The Week described how some people in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are holding signs that read, "Today's refugees, tomorrow's terrorists." Just like the Jews faced hate and anti-Semitism during the war, Syrians today are facing stereotypes and rejection.


As Pope Francis encouraged during his recent visit to the United States regarding the Syrian refugees, "We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories." This reminded me of Mr. Lenda's message to eliminate hate and inspire love and acceptance.


Mr. Lenda's evolving understanding of the Holocaust relates perfectly to one of his favorite Latin proverbs, "The times change and we change with them." Mr. Lenda hopes that his stories will affect the way we change and inspire us to eliminate hate. As Tommy emphasized to me on the day of our interview, not hate but "the good feeling" helped people survive the worst genocide in history.

 

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Thomas "Toivi" Blatt. He died October 31 at his daughter's home in Santa Barbara, CA.

Thomas was a true inspiration -- a survivor of Sobibor death camp who dedicated his life to Holocaust education. Having lived for many years in the Seattle/Bellevue area, Thomas shared his incredible story with countless schools and community groups in the region.

His funeral will be held on Wednesday, November 4 at 12:30pm in Santa Barbara, CA. His family has made it possible to access a live video feed of the service at Congregation B'nai B'rith here: http://cbbsb.org/our-community-2/media/live-video-stream/

Thomas Blatt

 

Thomas "Toivi" Blatt was born in Izbica, a small town near Lublin, Poland. After the Nazi occupation of his town in 1939, Blatt escaped from the ghetto in Izbica, but was caught and imprisoned at the age of 15. He managed to escape from the prison and return to Izbica.

On April 28, 1943, Blatt and his family were deported to the Sobibor extermination camp, one of the "Operation Reinhard" camps in Poland. There, his father, mother, and little brother were separated from him and gassed. One of the SS officers picked Blatt out and said, "You will be my shoeshine boy." This meant that Blatt joined the group of slave laborers who ran the camp.

In Sobibor, Blatt became a member of the camp's Jewish resistance group. He was designated to run messages to different members of the revolt. On October 14, 1943, he participated in the revolt that resulted in the killing of nearly all the Nazi staff and allowing over 300 (out of the 600 who attempted escape) fellow slave laborers to break free. Unfortunately, many of these escapees lost their lives on the minefields surrounding the camp. Of the 300 who escaped, only 54 survived to the end of the war.

Blatt and two young fellow prisoners were among those who successfully escaped. They found refuge with a farmer who agreed to hide them for the money they had. However, the three boys were eventually betrayed and mercilessly shot. Blatt, left for dead with a bullet in his chin, managed to escape.

Blatt's story is told in his two books: Sobibor: The Forgotten Revolt and From the Ashes of Sobibor.

Blatt dedicated his life to accurately preserving the memory of the more than 250,000 Jews whom the Nazis murdered at the Sobibor death camp. He regularly returned to Europe to appear on talk shows, give lectures, and continue his research. He was depicted by an actor in the award-winning made-for-television movie called "Escape from Sobibor," and acted as chief adviser for the film.

Blatt traveled to Munich in 2011, in spite of his failing heath, to testify in the trial of former Sobibor SS guard Ivan (John) Demjanjuk. His compelling courtroom testimony helped prosecutors in Munich win Demjanjuk's conviction on more than 28,000 counts of serving as an accessory to murder.

When the revolt took place in Sobibor, the leader had said: "Those of you who may survive, bear witness. Let the world know what has happened here." Blatt spent his life fulfilling that mission.

Blatt was proud to be a member of the Holocaust Center's Speakers Bureau when he lived in Seattle. He returned to Seattle often after he moved in Santa Barbara to live with his daughter.

The Holocaust Center, students, teachers, and all who heard him will remember his courage and perseverance.

Tributes in memory of Thomas Blatt can be made to the
Holocaust Center for Humanity (2045 Second Ave, Seattle, WA 98121)
or online.

 

 

SEATTLE -- The first museum in Seattle to honor the Holocaust opened its doors on Sunday, highlighting the stories of local victims and survivors.

 

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By Natalie Singer-Velush | ParentMap Managing Editor | Oct. 21, 2015

This new museum, the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, is a story-driven outing honoring human rights and local survivors.

At first I was a little unsure about the decision to take my daughters, 8 and 10, to a Holocaust museum on a Sunday morning. To begin with — the difficult subject. Add in their relatively young ages and the fact that they had just come off another busy week and a Saturday chock-full with soccer, ballet and more soccer, and well … let’s just say it could have gone in any direction.

I’m so glad we went.

Mine were the first children to visit on the opening weekend of the Henry and Sandra Friedman Holocaust Center for Humanity, but the center — the Northwest’s first Holocaust museum — was ready for them. Read More

Listen to the Kiro Radio segment by clicking here

In the museum, a large, black and white picture displays elementary-age students, all with Jewish star patches sewn into their sweaters and coats.Up front sits Pete Metzelaar, about 6 years old at the time. Now 80, he's a Seattleite and Holocaust survivor who travels around the country telling his story.

"That regime, state-sponsored, wanted to eradicate every person of the Jewish faith on Earth," Metzelaar said.

"Everybody is different," he said, about how people will react to the new museum in Seattle.
Maybe they'll see the child's leather shoe, on loan from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland, and really understand what happened. That "they were gassed. They were … burned in the crematorium," Metzelaar said.
Metzelaar believes teaching it both in the museum and in schools can help people understand tolerance "to make kids aware what bullying will do to the worst extent," he said.

"Six million people got annihilated, among which were 1.5 million kids 10 years and younger. I mean it could have been … me." Those are the numbers of Jewish victims but the Nazis targeted more, including people who were mentally ill, gay or lesbian, and any minority who didn't fit into the Aryan race. 

Metzelaar survived because a Dutch couple risked their lives to house him and his mother. "We just lived in the farmhouse, but when the Germans came to raid the farm we crawled underneath some floor boards," he said."They were walking a foot and a half over my head. It would have taken one sneeze, one cough, one hiccup, and it would have been all over.
And even that got to be too dangerous."The farmer built them a cave in a small forest next to the farm "… and my mom and I hid in that like a couple of sardines," Metzelaar said.

And this was after he and his mother had already been separated from their entire family, who all died at Auschwitz.Those raids happened once or twice a week and Metzelaar was only 8 years old."We could hear them ransacking the farm — it was close by. That was the scary part … 'Are they gonna come get me?' … I was aware that somebody wants to kill me."

Metzelaar is one of many Seattle-area survivors profiled in the exhibit, and that focus on local stories is what sets this Holocaust museum apart.
Ilana Cone Kennedy, Seattle-based Holocaust Center for Humanity's Director of Education, wants young students and adult visitors to leave thinking about injustices that are happening right now."Our actions make a difference … what we do, even the little things — good or bad — have a ripple effect. They matter," she said."The Holocaust was a perfect storm of things happening and it didn't have to be that way. It could have changed, had people done different things, like stood up … and there were people who did. There just weren't enough of them."

Metzelaar was able to go to the Netherlands and meet the children of the couple who saved him."I sat next to the daughter and I asked her, ‘What made your parents do what they did?' Her straight answer was: they felt it was the right thing to do," Metzelaar said.

The museum opens in Belltown on Sunday and after that will be open twice a week. Visitors are asked to make reservations online at HolocaustCenterSeattle.org.