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A Holocaust Remembrance Day event was canceled due to low registration. So hundreds showed up on Zoom to hear survivor’s story

<i>From Sydney Goldstein</i><br/>Gal Weinstock (far left)
From Sydney Goldstein
From Sydney Goldstein
Gal Weinstock (far left)

By Ray Sanchez, CNN

On one of the most solemn days on the Jewish calender, Holocaust survivor Arnold Fridland would not be silenced.

Sydney Goldstein, 28, with a little help from others, saw to it.

Fridland, 86, was supposed to speak Thursday evening in Boulder, Colorado, at a Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, event — a day of reflection on the horrors of the Nazi slaughter of six millions Jews and the millions who lived on.

Goldstein said she tried to register for the event but the online link didn’t work. She later learned the program had been canceled because of low registration, she said.

“This kind of sparked a fire in me,” Goldstein recalled on Saturday. “There will be a time soon unfortunately where Holocaust survivors aren’t going to be around any longer and so we can’t waste a single year.”

As the Holocaust fades from public memory and anti-Semitism is on the rise, Goldstein was determined to allow Fridland to share his story.

She tracked down Fridland’s number and left a message to see if he could attend a last-minute event she hastily put together. Fridland, a retired scientist, had to call her back because he was on a bike ride.

“You know I live in Colorado,” Fridland joked in an interview with CNN. “I’m forced to try and pretend I’m still 25.”

Word spread, and Zoom call reached capacity

Goldstein, a doula, was a nanny for Gal and Maya Weinstock, who agreed to host the event at their home.

“We just started rapid fire messaging everyone to really show support,” said Goldstein, adding that the Weinstocks also reached out to Israeli friends living in Boulder.

She also announced the event on Instagram and received about 50 messages. Goldstein said she set up a Zoom video conference for the talk. About 30 people showed up at the Weinstock home.

“I thought like tops 20 people were going to show up on the Zoom,” Goldstein said.

Fridland began to speak and soon the Zoom reached a capacity of 300 people, Goldstein said.

“I kept getting messages from people: It’s at capacity. What do we do? So I went on Instagram Live and we had over 600 interactions on that. Someone from Bangkok had joined. It was like a worldwide event.”

Fridland spoke about walking the streets of Belgium as a boy, his father tightening the grip on his hand as lines of German soldiers walked past.

“It was exciting to watch. It was scary to watch but all the time I realized they were dangerous,” he said.

He talked about being separated from his Jewish parents at the end of 1942 — he was just 6 — and being taken in by another family. After the war, he learned his parents were killed at Auschwitz, where more than a million people were murdered. Until the beginning of 1945, he said, he still expected his parents would return for him.

“As my mother told me before, ‘We’ll be together soon — again,'” he told CNN. He recalled that dozens of Jewish children were taken in and saved by many non Jewish families.

“People who had very little themselves were still willing to help a Jewish child,” he said.

The evening was one of the most unforgettable experiences of Goldstein’s life, she said.

“It’s just so beautiful how the community came together to really show Arnold that we care and that we know this is something that’s very important and we’re invested in his story and we want to listen, and show him we’ll never forget,” she said.

“It was a beautiful example of the power of community, the power of a spark and a few people who wanted to make a difference and then that caught like wildfire.”

‘It was extremely inspiring’

One of the people on the Zoom call was Jonathan Allen, a manager with the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, DC. He learned about the talk from a friend’s social media post.

“When I joined … there were only around seven people on and so I immediately went and shared it on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to hopefully get more people on — and I’m sure others did as well,” he said. “And just 20 minutes later the Zoom hit its capacity at 300 people, with people pouring in from around the world and around the US.”

Allen said the ADL in 2021 counted more than 2,700 ant-Semitic incidents across the US — a 34% increase from the previous year and the highest number since the organization began keeping track in 1979.

“The opportunity to interact with survivors, to directly hear from them and their stories, is only going to become fewer and fewer as the survivors get older unfortunately,” he said. “And even now, we have Holocaust deniers while there are still living survivors, and so it’s on us, the next generation, to continue to pass along stories like Arnold’s — which is why I think it resonated with so many people.”

At the end of his presentation, Fridland politely thanked his audience. There was a round of applause.

Goldstein stepped forward and said of Fridland’s story: “It’s all over America. It’s all over the world.”

“Amazing,” he said, with a slight smile.

“He was able to live such a beautiful, full, happy and successful life after experiencing such darkness at such a young age,” Goldstein said Saturday.

“It was extremely inspiring and made me realize even more deeply what an honor it was to get to meet Arnold and have him share his story.”

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