How do we process the enormity of the Shoah, at least for the one day a year that we dedicate to commemorating the event together? There are of course many ways to answer this question; much depends on a person’s interests and time. We can speak to a survivor or see recorded testimony, read a book, attend an event at a day school or synagogue, see a movie, dip into a yizkorbuch, and more.
One effective way is to carve out time to learn about one person whom you did not know about before. This year is the first time I’ve heard of Max Ehrlich. Ehrlich was a famous cabaret performer in Berlin. (Several recordings of his performances exist on YouTube.) After Kristallnacht, he escaped to Holland, and in 1943 he was confined to the Westerbork transit camp (where Anne Frank went) before eventually being killed in Auschwitz. At Westerbork, Ehrlich found himself surrounded by other well-known Jewish performers from Germany and Holland. He organized and led a performance troupe in the camp that produced several shows. While the performers were kept back from the transports to the death camps for some time, in the end nearly all met the same fate as others at Westerbork.
Ehrlich’s life and work is commemorated by a scholarly website in his honor, containing his filmography, theater career and a list of people he worked with. This Sunday, for the first time, there will be a concert of Ehrlich’s music that was smuggled out of Westerbork, to be performed by the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra together with young musicians from the south of Israel. Called “Notes of Hope,” the concert can be viewed live on JNF-UK’s website here. The effort to produce the concert was spearheaded by the performer’s nephew Alan Ehrlich; the story of his uncle’s music and the upcoming performance can be found in this JTA article.
May we all find a way to give honor to the memory of the victims of the Shoah.
Here is an inspiring video from Beit Avi Chai featuring Israeli survivors of the Shoah with children and grandchildren.