“…We had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us anymore; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we will have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.”
– Primo Levi, If This Is a Man, 1958.
Traces to Remember
— Sigmund Halstuch, Holocaust Survivor —
"When the war broke out, the Russians were the first to enter the city. The Soviet Union was there from 1939 to 1941, because Poland was divided between Russia, or the Soviet Union, and Germany. In 1941 war broke out between them, and shortly thereafter, the Germans entered into the city. Within very little time, a few weeks, it became serious. A group of young men from the Gestapo entered the house. I was sitting in the balcony reading a book, when suddenly I saw two Gestapo men hitting my mother, and she tried to defend her husband when they grabbed him, and they grabbed him and they were going to hit him with a gun. That was the worst scene I ever saw. Then they took my father and my brother; I don’t know how, but they did.
Shortly thereafter we were forced to live in a ghetto, which were streets where only Jews were allowed to live. I was there for less than a year. Then they raided the place and took some people. They took my brother, my grandmother, and my aunt. They released my brother because they were going to use him for work, he was young, and they took my grandmother. Later we learned that they were taken in cattle trains, because two young ladies managed to jump off the train on the way, and they told us that my grandmother had suffocated and died there. And we knew nothing more; later we learned that they were taken to extermination camps where they were killed in gas chambers.
Then we were immediately sent to a smaller ghetto, where we were barely surviving. They raided the ghetto and took my brother. They took my brother to a labor camp where he was killed too."
“Imagine now a man who is deprived of everyone he loves, and at the same time of his house, his habits, his clothes, in short, of everything he possesses: he will be a hollow man, reduced to suffering and needs, forgetful of dignity and restraint, for he who loses all often easily loses himself… Understand the double sense of the term: extermination camp,”
– Primo Levi, If this is a Man, 1958.
Mom wanted to commit suicide. We would carry poison in our pockets, potassium cyanide, which was very scarce, but a lady at a laboratory, who was a close friend, got it for us. But I would tell my mother that I wanted to live. She did not want to live; she had lost her sister, she lost her son, she lost her husband. But I insisted so much that she talked to an odontologist friend of ours, and she said to her: “I know of a farmer who is willing to hide me, talk to him and see if he can hide you.”
Then one night we left the ghetto and we went over there, it was a few kilometers out of the town. We talked to him and he said yes. So, seeing that they were going to kill everyone in the end, we left. And I was there, first in a barn, I remember, then for about nine months or so, in a space that he set aside in a shop that he had there, he made a fake wall that measured 80 centimeters and he opened a tunnel starting from his room, underneath the bed, to go through that space. We were there for about nine months without going out, without seeing the sunlight, without seeing anything, suffering from hunger many times, because when the farmer’s wife fought with him, she would not feed us. But thank God we were safe there, eating at the most twice a day, but usually once a day, once every thirty six hours. In darkness, coldness, humidity, but thank God I am alive to tell my story.
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After observing previous commemorations, it was our desire to change these from simply social commemorations, to actions, with the purpose of leaving a legacy for future generations.
That is how the project Traces to Remember was created.
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The Traces of the Survivors:
The testimony that the people of Israel live, and will multiply as the sand of the sea and the stars of heaven.
—Dr. William Soto—
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The project consists of creating commemorative plaques on which the handprints of Holocaust survivors will be shown. The proof of survival includes the handprints of a son and grandson, thus completing three generations. In this way, the world can remember the evidence of this tragic event, so that it is not forgotten. Thus making a call to be vigilant, in order to prevent a genocide from happening again.
These plaques will be situated in various public places such as universities, libraries, parks, governmental, religious and military institutions. Other plaques will also be rotating throughout various embassies, museums and exhibition halls.
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The Star of David:
One of the oldest symbols that most identifies the people of Israel.
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For this first plaque, Holocaust survivor Sigmund Halstuch was joined by his son Carlos and his grandson Yoel to place their handprints.
What did placing your hands on this commemorative plaque mean to you?
One feels impacted. I feel sad for the family that I lost, but at the same time I feel happy to come with my son and my grandson, above all, having my family that remains. But one always ends up feeling… how can I explain it? Somewhere in between the sadness for what I lost, and happiness for what I have.
How important was it to place your handprints on this plaque?
Let’s say, that is part of the responsibility I feel. Why responsibility? Because it is my obligation, my moral obligation to continue –more than continue– to tell the world that this happened. There are people who don’t know, or people who do know but don’t consider it important. There are still movements that try to deny the existence of the Holocaust.
If now, that we still have survivors who can come and stand up and say: “You know what? I went through this, this happened to me,” they can tell their stories. What will happen the day that they are no longer here? These movements will be able to come and say: “You know what? That didn’t happen, that was invented in history.” If we are not here, if the survivors are not here to say “You know what? Don’t dare to say that” Well, then they will be able to do so.
—Carlos Halstuch, Son of the Holocaust survivor—
What do you think of the Holocaust?
This can never be forgotten. To me, if this happens again, it would be like the end of the world.
I am very happy to see him because if he had not survived, my dad would not have been here and I would not have been here. I truly can’t express how happy I am that they have survived.
—Yoel Halstuch, Grandson of the Holocaust survivor—
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On Thursday, January 19, with the presence of the Director of the campaign Let's Raise Our Voice: Peace in the Holy Land, Holocaust survivors, political leaders, scholars, religious leaders, and entrepreneurs gathered at the Embassy of Poland where the ceremony of the unveiling of the first commemorative plaque was held.
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Dr. William Soto, President of the campaign Let's Raise Our Voice: Peace in the Holy Land
"By unveiling this plaque, we hope to contribute to the preservation of future generations’ memory of the events that took place during World War II, mainly against the Jewish people, now known as the Holocaust or Shoah. This plaque is only one of the mechanisms that should help us learn and remember the lessons of history, and be effective in preventing such horrific acts from happening again."
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— Dr. Stella Coiffman, Director of Zachor—
"This impacts me greatly on a personal level, because I had the image of my parents, who were survivors of the war, constantly on my mind. I think that they would have been very proud. I think that ten, or fifteen years ago, nobody would have imagined that a plaque commemorating the Holocaust would be displayed at the Embassy of Poland. So I think it's very important. I am deeply grateful, I'm very touched, and I hope we continue doing things like these."
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After being exhibited for a period of time, this commemorative plaque will be exhibited at the German Embassy; then it will be taken to other embassies. Sigmund Halstuch, his son Carlos, and his grandson Yoel, form a part of the voices of those who, after having suffered the Holocaust, have broken the silence and rebelled against oblivion. Because history tends to repeat itself: let us be vigilant, in order to prevent act like these from happening again.