TORONTO — Jordana Lebowitz, 20, believes that it’s “important and crucial” for her to pass on the stories of the Holocaust.
“That’s why I wanted to go to the Oskar Groening trial in Luneburg, Germany, in April. It gives me the legitimacy to pass on the eyewitness reports of the trial,” the University of Guelph psychology student says.
On July 15, Groening was convicted as an accessory to the murder of 300,000 people and sentenced to four years in prison.
Lebowitz, a Thornhill, Ont., resident, is an active volunteer who believes we cannot sit silently while anti-Semitism and intolerance occur.
“We must stand up to the Holocaust deniers.”
Lebowitz, a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, is a graduate of the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. She has participated in the March of the Living, been involved in the Save a Child’s Heart organization in Israel, is a speaker for the March of the Living and helped build a school in Kenya. She will be the chair of Holocaust Education Week at the University of Guelph in the coming year.
She wanted to be a youth witness at the trial in Germany of former SS sergeant Groening, now 93.
Groening was known as the bookkeeper of Auschwitz. His job was to be on the ramp when prisoners arrived, make an inventory of their belongings and clear the ramp so that the next group of prisoners would not know what had happened.
Lebowitz says she recognizes that the elderly Holocaust survivors will not be around much longer, and she took it upon herself to find a way to attend the trial as a witness for future generations.
She contacted the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Toronto and offered to attend the trial and send back a daily journal of the trial along with her personal impressions and experiences.
They agreed, and for two weeks, Lebowitz attended the “emotional trial” and interacted with the survivors who testified against Groening.
She notes that many Germans lined up in front of the courthouse in support of the survivors.
To her shock and surprise, however, she encountered a Holocaust denier at the trial who told her he was present to protest the lies of the Holocaust.
“It was the first time I had ever come face to face with a Holocaust denier,” she says.
Sitting behind her at the trial was a man named Rainer Hoess, who explained to her that he was the grandson of Rudolf Hoess, the commandant and mastermind behind the death machine at Auschwitz.
He told Lebowitz that his grandfather was hanged in 1947 for his crimes, and he himself travels the world lecturing about the consequences of hatred and promoting equality.
He added that he wanted to confront hatred in society and “change darkness of the past to light.”
Watching the trial, Lebowitz says she had conflicting emotions “that overtook my heart – sadness over the losses of my ancestors, anger at the face representing all Nazi perpetrators and those that stood idly and watched, disbelief over the opportunity for justice to be served, amazement that I am here to witness this trial.
“I have admiration for the survivors because of their strength in the light of these circumstances,” she says.
“The most important thing for me is to use our voices to stand up for the things we believe in and to pass on the legacy of those who perished in the Holocaust and the survivors.
“Our nation owes them a great deal and we are indebted to those who were able to rebuild their lives for us as my family did.”
On her return to Toronto, she has spoken to many groups and been on radio.
Lebowitz and the Holocaust survivors who attended the Groening trial will participate in a Nov. 3 event during this fall’s Holocaust Education Week.