Local News
7:00 am
Fri April 25, 2014

Yom HaShoah in Louisville: Survivors Share Stories for Holocaust Remembrance Week

Credit Alix Mattingly

This Sunday marks the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Week.  In Louisville, the Jewish Community Relations Council will mark the remembrance, Yom HaShoah, with an event Monday night at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.        

It’s called “Pouring Out the Heart:  Learning from Personal Holocaust Stories.”  

The recollections of two sisters from Russia who now live in Louisville are included in a locally-produced film that will be unveiled at the event.  

“The war started June 22nd, and I remember this day very well,” says 79-year-old Sima Furman, recalling the stories of atrocities committed by the Nazis during their confinement.

The  native of Minsk, Russia (now the capital of the Republic of Belarus) and her 76 year old sister, Anna Belenkaya, shared some of their wartime experiences with WFPL recently at Louisville’s Shalom Tower, the apartment building where the siblings have lived since immigrating here in the 1990s.

Sima and Anna were not forced to a concentration camp, but confined to a ghetto area of Minsk that that held more than 100,000  Jews.  The children lived in squalor, food was scarce, the Nazis terrorized them. Many Jews were taken away for extermination. 

Sima was almost 7 when the occupation began.  Anna was 3.

"I just remember how I was sick," Anna said.   "I was so sick I could not walk, and I just remember I was in the baby bed.”

One day the girls’ mother disappeared; they later learned of her death.  Their grandmother died from malnutrition.

They also lost a baby sister.

Of the more than 30 family members who lived in the ghetto, only three survived.  

Sima recounts the day a soldier shot and killed a newborn in the house where they were hiding.

“I still remember how people were crying. It’s still in my ear,” she said. 

But there are also stories of unconditional kindnesses, often by strangers—often at great risk.

At one point Sima found her way to an orphanage, where the director used its wretched conditions to keep Nazis at bay.

“Many children were sick," she said. "It was some bad disease. The Nazis were very scared to step in.  Our director put up a poster.  It said, ‘There is disease, don’t step in.’ And this also saved (the children)."

It’s estimated that there are 15 to 20 known Holocaust survivors in Louisville, and not all of them speak publicly about their experiences.

The number is getting smaller each year, and Matt Goldberg with the Jewish Community of Louisville says that makes it all the more important to not only chronicle their stories, but to get the next generation to tell them, too.     

That has given rise to a locally produced film, for which Jewish and Catholic middle school students interviewed Sima, Anna and other Holocaust survivors in Louisville.

Some of it will be screened at Monday’s event. Goldberg says the interview experience had a transformative impact on the young participants.

“To see these people who have witnessed the horrors of humanity, the real worst that humans can do, and they’re not still bitter, they’re not horribly emotionally scarred, they’re positive people, they smile, they laugh. That in itself is an uplifting message,”  he said. 

After the war, Sima Furman and Anna Belenkaya were reunited with relatives and went on to have families of their own.

Anna says they tell their story with the hope it will be carried forward, that future generations will learn from history and honor the millions who died. 

“Life is so different now. What’s happened with grand-grand-grand children. We hope, we are very hoping they will remember what’s happened with our family.”

Monday’s Yom HaShoah gathering begins at 7 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.  It’s free and open to the public.