Holocaust survivor Irene Shashar: ‘Never Again’ should truly mean never again

Irene Shashar, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, addressed MEPs in a plenary session in Brussels to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Irene Shashar
Irene Shashar

Irene Shashar, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, addressed MEPs in a plenary session in Brussels to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

She was introduced to MEPs by Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament. “We pay tribute today to the victims of the Holocaust and reaffirm our unwavering commitment against antisemitism, racism and other forms of hate. Europe remembers”.

Warning that the complicit silence of many made the Nazi horrors possible, she underlined that “the European Parliament is not a place of indifference - we speak against Holocaust deniers, against disinformation and against violence”.

“We will listen to your story. We will take your lessons with us. We will remember”, she concluded, before giving the floor to Shashar.

Born on 12 December 1937 as Ruth Lewkowicz, Irene Shashar was not yet two when the Nazis invaded her native Poland. Shashar experienced her years spent as a child hidden in the sewers of Warsaw. Her father was slaughtered in the family’s ghetto hovel when she was five. Shashar clearly remembers seeing his mangled corpse on the floor.

A now retired 40-year lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Spanish and Latin American studies, Shashar said that through her mother’s sheer will, she survived the war hiding in sewers or locked in closets with her beloved doll, her Laleczka. “She saved my life a million times through the war,” she said.

Shashar recalled her mother telling her that if she doesn’t call for help or cry, “all of this will be over soon and we’ll go out and play.” She was told she would receive a new doll, since her doll was sodden with sewage water.

“How long was that [that I hid]? I cannot tell you, but it was in endless places. I was shoeless, cold, hungry. I was afraid,” she said.

After her father was killed by the Nazis, she escaped the ghetto with her mother and was in hiding for the rest of war. She and her mother then moved to Paris. After her mother’s death, she moved to Peru where she was adopted by relatives. After studying in the US, she moved to Israel at the age 25 and became the youngest faculty member to hold a post at the Hebrew University. Today she lives in Modiin, Israel. In 2023, she published her biography “I won against Hitler”.

During her speech, Irene Shashar described how she survived the horrors of Nazism in Warsaw as a “Holocaust Hidden Child”, fleeing through a sewer to the Aryan side of Warsaw where her mother’s friends supported them.

Living in Israel today, she said, “I was blessed with the opportunity to have children and grandchildren. I did the very thing Hitler tried so hard to prevent. Hitler did not win!”

After the 7 October attacks by Hanas, Shashar said “the resurgence of antisemitism means that the hate of the past is still with us,” she warned. “Jews are again not feeling safe living in Europe. After the Holocaust, this should be unacceptable. ‘Never Again’ should truly mean never again.”

Referring to Europe, which was able to set aside old hatred and come together, she declared that her dream was that “my children, all children, live in a peaceful Middle East, one that is free of hate, especially towards us, the Jews. In my dream, Jews find safety and security anywhere they choose to call home. And antisemitism is finally a thing of the past.”

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