Refugees from Liberia and the Holocaust urged those gathered at Sunday’s Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration to listen and learn from their stories and to always remember.
“I am sure in a few years, there will be a Syrian child telling the same story as ours. We haven’t learned,” said Crannough Jones, whose family fled the brutal warlord Charles Taylor in 1989.
Two survivors of the Holocaust joined Jones at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Potomac in an afternoon of remembrance that included young people meeting with Holocaust survivors and a reading of the names of some of the those murdered by their surviving relatives.
“Displaced Persons: Struggles to Find a Home” was the theme of the commemoration, which was presented by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
Jones was an 18-year-old high school student when she fled to America. Along with her mother and sister, she worked hard to adapt to her new home, where she didn’t know the language and couldn’t understand the foods.
She recalled the time she and her sister mixed some water into a bowl of flour, added salt and waited for it to turn into bread. It didn’t taste good, but “it was bread to us,” she recalled.
When she hears immigrant-bashing in the news, Jones feels a burden, she said. She wants everyone to understand that “immigrants want safety. They want to get away from murder,” she said.
“We shouldn’t kill somebody because we don’t like them,” she said, adding, “What matters is that we are all humans. We are all our brothers’ keepers.”
Marsha (Leikach) Tisher has spent much of her adult life spreading her story so that the world would remember where hatred leads.
Along with her family, she fled her home in Poland hid in a nearby forest. Not knowing what else to do, her parents left her at the doorstep of a farmhouse. She was only 3 months old.
During the few years she lived with her new family, 33 of her parents’ close relatives were killed.
Eventually she reunited with her parents, who had no idea what to do or where to go. They slept on train platforms, although they didn’t have the necessary tickets to board.
They eventually found a guide who led them across the Alps, from Austria into Italy. She recalled crying very hard at her parents’ request so that former soldiers who had set up a roadblock in order to rob everyone who passed would leave them alone. It worked.
The family ended up at a displaced person’s camp that was “overcrowded. It was dismal. It was dank. The food was almost inedible,” Tisher recalled.
However, she said, the camp was a good place to “regain a sense of self, a sense of dignity” with the only people “who could understand that pain.”
Also telling her story was Anita (Kuenstler) Epstein who, when only a few months old in 1943, was drugged, stuffed in a satchel and smuggled out to live with a Polish family. She was baptized and raised Catholic.
After the war, she was reunited with her mother and moved to a Displaced Person’s camp in Germany.
She wrote down her memoirs, a portion of which her husband read aloud during the ceremony as she stood by his side, not up to sharing her tale.
He read of how, when she was three years old, her mother came to get her, but Epstein didn’t want to leave the only family she knew just to go to a stranger, who claimed to be her mother.
For the next few years, Epstein and her mother struggled to find a home where they could belong, finally ending up in America in late 1949. It took long because “America, however, wasn’t eager to have us,” she wrote in her memories.
After hearing the early lives of the three refugees, Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation declared, “This is our pledge, to bring peace where there is prejudice … to educate, communicate and to eradicate hate. These are all actions, actions that make remembering meaningful.”