Gidon Lev

“When I was three years old, I became a human being without a country – a refugee. It was June 4th, 1938, and Hitler was allowed by Great Britain (and others) to take over the Sudetenland, the part of former Czechoslovakia that borders eastern Germany, as a means to prevent war. It was a foolish political move that failed. The Jews of the Sudetenland, which included my parents, paternal grandparents, and me, fled to what we hoped was safety in Prague. I remember us schlepping so many suitcases to the train station late at night. My parents were scared. I remember that I had a beautiful new red tricycle with black handlebars, that I had just received for my birthday. I was not allowed to take it with me. I cried bitterly.

This, for me, as such a small child was the very beginning of becoming a refugee.

We lived in a small apartment in the center of Prague, together with my grandparents, and wondered how we could manage to cope. It took only a few months for the Germans to take over the entire country and make it a protectorate of Germany. The Jews of Prague were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp which served as a transport hub to the death camps. After the war ended, only my mother and I had survived, out of 26 family members. After liberation, we went back to Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) and lived in a house with friends that had also miraculously stayed alive. But it was never really home for me again. One day, in school, another student called me a “dirty Jew.” Two years later, a great aunt, living in Brooklyn found and sponsored my mother and me and we emigrated as Jewish refugees to America. Then a year later we were allowed to move to Toronto Canada. Once again all was strange and different. Refugees we were and so remained, until, 1959, when I finally emigrated to the only land that would have me, not only as a refugee but as a bonafide citizen of the country, and I could hold my head high, for the first time in 25 or so years!

In today’s world, once more, there are so many refugees and it is tragic. It breaks my heart; so many Israelis were once refugees. Respect for all humans, no matter where they come from, what their color, past nationality, or religion, is something we must practice with empathy, kindness, and understanding – even when it is not easy or simple.

The hate of the “other” is self-destructive and can lead to inhuman behavior and genocide, as I have witnessed! We must implement the lessons we learned during the Holocaust even today. The past is never truly in the past unless we learn from it.
I’m not so sure that we have.”

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