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David Matas : The Azrieli Memoirs: The picture of one survivor's life can tell us more about the Holocaust than a thousand general words

by David Matas , posted November 22, 2012

 [Editor's note: These are the remarks prepared by David Matas,Honourary Senior Counsel for B'nai Brith Canada, for the launch of the Azrieli Series of Memoirs at the Fairmont Hotel in October 2012 at an event put on by B'nai Brith Midwest Region and the Azrieli Foundation. To see our related article covering the event please go to, or scroll down to the bottom of  Matas's remarks]

David Matas :

The Azrieli Memoirs: The picture of one survivor's life can tell us more about the Holocaust than a thousand general words

by David Matas, October 16, 2012

How do we tell the story of six million Jewish deaths, the attempt to exterminate the whole Jewish people and the escape of the survivors? The answer is by telling the story of each person caught up in these awful events one at a time. 

What the Holocaust was can be stated in a sentence, as numbers. To give meaning to the numbers, the individuals behind the numbers have to be made real.

The Holocaust was the meeting of the modern industrial economy and the world's oldest hatred. The industrialization of death, the factory line of killing looks to be an endless repetition of the same awful story. Yet, behind every poisonous gas shower, every box car jammed with people, every pit filled with machine gunned bodies was the infinite variety of individual human lives. To appreciate truly the tragedy of the Holocaust we must peel back the mechanization, the industrialization, the repetition and get to see and feel the wide diversity of humanity beneath.  
The death of six million Jews and the persecution and flight of millions more are statistics. The death of an individual is a tragedy. To get from the statistic to the tragedy we must convert the deaths, the persecution, the flight, the escapes from sheer numbers to individual stories.
The Azrieli series does just that, speaking for the dead as well as the survivors through the voices of experience. In listening to those individual voices, we can see the humanity behind the numbers, hear the voices over the bullets, feel the catastrophe beyond the totals.     
The story of the Holocaust will be kept alive only if it is kept fresh, kept new. The Holocaust memoirs published in the Azrieli series bring life to the dead, hope to the living, and memory for the vanished.
The Holocaust was so massive and so awful, it is easier to grasp what happened by focusing on one person, one incident, one detail, than by looking at the calamity as a whole. By narrowing the focus, the Azrieli series widens our understanding. It communicates to us directly person to person.
The Holocaust, in its scale, its scope, its cruelty remains incomprehensible.   How do we get a grip on something that large? By bringing us down to ground level, by hearing the stories of individuals who were caught up in the machinery of death and who attempted to escape its maws, we glean some comprehension. We get a glimpse of the full horror. 
It is impossible to understand the Holocaust from a snapshot, from a sentence, from one overall sweeping summary. We need the myriad of perspectives, the variety of insights, the multiplicity of handles that different memoirs give us.
If we can identify with the story of even one victim or survivor of the Holocaust, which the Azrieli memoir series surely helps us do, then we can begin to appreciate its full dimensions. We become aware, with horror, that this one awful story was replicated, with variations, again and again. 
The picture of one survivor's life can tell us more about the Holocaust than a thousand general words. With the Azrieli series, we see, we hear, we learn.
The antisemitism which killed the Jews during the Holocaust has transmogrified into an antisemitism which now attempts to kill their memories, through Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial needs to be combatted by active, functioning hate speech laws. It also needs to be coun
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