Remembrance in the Living Room

In 2010, some friends gathered in a living room to discuss the Holocaust, the testimony of survivors, and its impact on society over time in an intimate and familiar setting.

Since then, this experience has become an annual international initiative called Zikaron Basalon, which means “remembrance in the living room.”

The event usually takes place on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s official date of commemoration for those who perished in the Holocaust.

The initiative even has a dedicated website where the three main components of the event are listed, including: Testimony, Expression, and Open Discussion.

There are plenty of tips for how to adapt the “Living Room” conversation to an online format and there are recorded and written testimonies of survivors, relevant music and texts, and discussion prompts.

This reminds me of an event I attended in Toronto in December 2019 called the Dinner of Miracles. Three hundred and fifty young people came together to hear from 45 Holocaust survivors. To have so many survivors together in one room was a profound gift. There was one survivor per table. We each received headsets at our table so that we could focus on listening intently to story of the survivor seated at our particular table within in the packed room.

The survivor at my table was Stefania Sitbon, a survivor from Poland.

A bit about her:

Stefania Sitbon was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1939 and grew up in the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1942, her family was smuggled into the Warsaw Zoo by the Zoo Director, Jan Zabinski, and his wife, Antonina. The subject of the film The Zookeeper’s Wife, 300 Jewish men, women, and children were hidden in animal cages from 1939 to 1945. From there Stefania and her family were separated and sent to convents and surrounding villages. They were liberated in 1945 and reunited in Austria and Poland. In 1957 they emigrated to Israel, Stefania was married and she later decided to move to Canada. In 2014, as part of the March of the Living, she went back to the Warsaw Zoo for an emotional meeting with Teresa, the Zabinskis daughter. Stefania and her brother, Moshe, are the only Warsaw Zoo survivors known to be alive today. She and her husband, Freddy, have three children and seven grandchildren.

Sometimes it takes a living room to make the space for remembrance.

Absent the ability to gather, it is still important for us to make space in our minds, our schedules, and our hearts to listen to the stories of survivors.

Video of Stefania

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