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A Turning Point | 'Remembrance in the Living Room': How an innovative program is connecting Holocaust survivors with the younger generation

Nathan Lipsyc was born in Antwerp, Belgium. His early years were happy ones, but everything changed when he was a very young child.

CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — Joined by his wife of 63 years and two of his granddaughters, Nathan Lipsyc shared his story of survival.

"The first thing that came out was an edict that all Jews have to start to wear the yellow star of David," he recalled. "My parents realized that something's going on, because all of a sudden people would disappear, and particularly young children.

"You're never to be heard from again, and this is what had began to happen."

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Lipsyc was born in Antwerp, Belgium. His early years were happy ones, but everything changed when he was a very young child.

"My mother was hidden in one place, my sister hidden somewhere else," he said. "I went to my first home. I was 3 1/2 years old and went into hiding."

This is Zikaron Basalon, a Hebrew phrase meaning "remembrance in the living room." The idea? To bring to connect Holocaust survivors with the younger generation.

Since 2016, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland has partnered with the Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland, Israeli-American Council/Cleveland, and Kol Israel Foundation to bring Jewish young adults in Cleveland together with survivors living in our community to remember and reflect.

"Tonight, we are gathered here to hear my grandfather's story of the Holocaust and to engage in a meaningful discussion about our obligation as young people to keep the memories of the Holocaust alive," Nat's granddaughter Elanna Gould told the group as she introduced him.

Credit: Nathan Lipsyc
Nat dressed up with Leon Wyam for a Belgian celebration called Gille de Binche.

Lipsyc shared with those in attendance that, tragically, his father was among the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. He was caught in hiding by the Nazis in 1940, but Lipsyc, his mother, and his sister evaded capture.

Still, Nat considers himself one of the lucky ones. He was hidden and cared for by 11 different families in apartments and farms during the war. He says he remains grateful and closely connected with those families to this day.

"These people on the farm were so good ... they were just unbelievable family," he said. "There are a lot of good people in this world. There's some rotten ones, as well, but there are a lot of good people. You just need to be judicious and get the right person and get to meet with them, get to know them."

Credit: Nathan Lipsyc

Lipsyc also knows the importance of sharing stories like his own.

"The only thing I always knew, thanks to my mother, is that I was Jewish and who I was, and to be reminded of that," he explained, "which is something we need to teach all our children: To remain Jewish and to understand the wonderful things and opportunities that opens and teaches us to be."

Lessons that touch participants and hosts like Elissa Wuliger, who opened up her home for the event.

"You know, the story of the human side of the Holocaust is incredibly traumatic," she said. "It was wonderful to hear how there are good people in the world. It makes me think of how important it is to do good every day to take care of people who need help every day."

It's a responsibility Lipsyc's grandchildren feel as well.

"I think it's important to have events like this," Gould stated. "When my grandfather's no longer here, I want to make sure that we have these memories for future generations to come, and I think it's important that every year, we still remember it and tell it, because we don't want history to repeat itself.

"You know, my grandfather had to be hidden during the war just because he was Jewish, and so we take for granted a lot of the times what he had to go through for a us to be here."