On Nov. 13, students filled Dupuis Auditorium and listened to Esther Fairbloom tell her life story. A survivor of the Holocaust, Fairbloom travelled from Toronto to Kingston to give her address as part of Holocaust Education Week hosted by Hillel Queen’s.
Fairbloom’s address was one of several events organized by Hillel Queen’s. Not only does the campus group aim to educate others about Judaism and Jewish history, but they also provide a community for students of the Jewish faith on campus.
Fairbloom told the packed lecture hall about her time as a young girl in Poland, where she lived in an orphanage for five years. After sending her sister away, Fairbloom’s mother took her to the orphanage shortly after her birth to keep her safe from Nazis. Her parents were shot and killed shortly thereafter.
While there, she told students how the nuns who ran the orphanage often put her in a small cubicle to keep her presence hidden from Nazi inspection.
Eventually, Fairbloom left the orphanage with her uncle and moved to Canada at the age of 11. Though she’s been able to make a home for herself in Toronto — she has three children and has been married for 57 years — Fairbloom doesn’t want people to forget about the horrors she and many others experienced in their youth.
Fairbloom actively tells her story in the hopes of raising awareness about the ongoing effects of the Holocaust. In an interview with The Journal following her address, Fairbloom said “[t]here’s so many deniers in this world … telling [students about my experiences] makes it real.”
She said she still feels the effects of the Holocaust years later; often becoming anxious and fearful in situations that seem commonplace to others. Fairbloom has also experienced multiple medical problems over the course of her life — a result of her childhood malnutrition.
“The Holocaust scars you. You’re never really the same,” she commented in her address. “I wanted [my children] to have the life I never had.”
Calling herself a fighter, Fairbloom maintains a determined and oftentimes humorous demeanour despite all she’s been through. Not only has she faced repeated trauma in the aftermath of the Holocaust, but she told the audience she has also battled several different forms of cancer throughout adulthood.
She said being able to laugh is incredibly important. “Life is a sense of humour,” she told the crowd.
In addition to Fairbloom’s talk on Monday, Hillel Queen’s hosted several other events throughout the Nov. 13 to 17 week, including two different exhibits and a Shabbat dinner on Friday.
Hillel Queen’s members spoke to The Journal about the importance of Holocaust Education Week on campus, which is also being held at other schools across the country. The committee members talked about the importance of continuing discussion about the Holocaust and ensuring the memories of those who experience it live on.
Hillel member Charlotte Axelrod, ArtSci ‘18, said “[i]t’s a very important week for raising not just awareness of the tragedies of the Holocaust, but the importance of carrying on the stories of those who experienced them.”
Others iterated the importance of listening to survivors’ stories, as it might not always be possible in the future.
“Survivors are growing older and passing away and it is very important that we utilize the chance we have to hear them speak and have conversations with people who experienced it,” Hillel Queen’s member Hunter Soll, ArtSci ’20, said.
“This horrible event wasn’t that far away, it wasn’t years ago in a textbook,” Soll continued. “We still have people who can recall where they were and what happened, and in 10 years it won’t be like that.”
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