Lessons from the Holocaust

A panel discussion, hosted by CSYV and the Jewish Law Students’ Association at U of T, Law Faculty

Event speakers (from left to right): Samantha Rosenthal, Hedy Bohm, Josh Hacker, Irwin Cotler and Lily Chapnik-Rosenthal. (Photo by Josh Yang)

Over 230 students, faculty and the public attended the “Lessons from the Holocaust” panel discussion, hosted by CSYV and the Jewish Law Students’ Association at U of T Law Faculty. Holocaust Survivor, Hedy Bohm shared her personal account from the Holocaust and Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Irwin Cotler gave the Keynote Address on the lessons of the Holocaust.

(Photo by Josh Yang)

CSYV‘s message during the panel discussion, focused on the important mission of educating Canadians of all ages about the Holocaust. Co-Presidents of the Jewish Law Students’ Association at U of T Law Faculty, Samantha Rosenthal and Lily Chapnik-Rosenthal addressed the audience and spoke about the importance of speaking out against injustice.

Holocaust Survivor, Hedy Bohm took the audience through the emotional story of her life starting with a very normal and happy childhood in Oradea, Romania, which was abruptly cut short by the Nazis. As a young girl, she loved dancing and aspired to be a gym teacher until she was forced onto a cattle car with her parents on route to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hedy recalled that once she arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she was quickly separated from both her parents. She spent 3 months at Auschwitz-Birkenau before being sent to a work camp in Germany where she was reunited with her aunt and cousins.

In February 1945, she was passed a note by a French political prisoner, which read, “The allies are advancing. Keep your hopes up. It won’t be long now.” Hedy became hopeful that she would see her mother again because she was young and healthy enough to survive the war.

On April 14th, she was liberated by the American army and she became elated that she was closer to seeing her mom again. Her cousin told her that day that the road that she last saw her mother at Auschwitz led straight to the gas chamber. Hedy described the day of liberation as the “happiest and saddest day” of her life.

Soon after the war ended, she returned to her hometown in Oradea, Romania. She soon married and shortly made her way to Canada with her new husband as Hungary was descending into Communism.

Hedy also spoke of her experiences as an eyewitness at the trial of Oskar Groening in Germany in 2015. While Hedy was at first reluctant to testify because she did not want to recall the events of her time at Auschwitz-Birkenau, she realized that she was asked to testify simply because there were no other eyewitnesses to do so. She began to see it as her responsibility to speak for those who could not.

Her message at the end of her story to the students was:

“Never feel that you can’t rock the boat. Each one of you can make a difference.”

Hedy reminded the students that they should never forget how grateful they should be for their families, education and all the advantages of living in Canada.

Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Irwin Cotler concluded the event with a keynote address on the 12 lessons from the Holocaust, and the role that future lawyers, many of whom were in the audience could play in combating hatred and injustice.