By Elizabeth Rabasca
Special to the Islander
TREMONT — People from all over Hancock County and as far away at Washington Academy in Machias came to the Bass Harbor Memorial Library recently to listen to the stories of, and meet, Holocaust survivor Louise Lawrence-Israels.
Tremont Consolidated School teacher Liz Rabasca brought Israels to Mount Desert Island for a week of speaking engagements at area schools. Inspired by her visit to the United States Holocaust Museum during an eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. in 2015, Rabasca worked to secure grant funds to bring Israels to speak at island schools and to island residents about her experience growing up in Amsterdam in the early 1940s.
Attendees heard stories of what life was like for the Jewish family before the war and the circumstances that led up to Israels’ father making the decision to hide his family instead of going to the concentration camps. Israel’s family lived for three years in a one room attic in Amsterdam, not five blocks away from Anne Frank. With the help of rebels – Israels calls them “heroes” – and a lot of luck, the family was able to survive undetected while hundreds of thousands of others died in the genocide of the Holocaust.
Israels also talked about the aftermath of the war and how fear and distrust traumatized survivors for generations. It wasn’t until Elie Weisel’s “Night” was published and widely read that survivors began to feel like they could open up and talk about their experiences. Her message of forgiveness, that “hate begets hate,” and standing up for what you believe in was echoed in her stories of heroes and survivors.
Two eighth graders from Tremont summed up the significance of Lawrence-Israëls’s visit this way. “The Holocaust speaker was a once-in- a-lifetime experience,” the one student reflected.
“It’s rare to have this happen, which I’m grateful for. The speaker helped me better understand how people’s lives were affected.”
Another student added,“I was lucky enough to get to meet a Holocaust survivor and learn her story which was an amazing experience`.”