Two-year-old Edith Heine watched as blood pooled and snaked across the white tiles of her home.
Moments earlier, two Gestapo men had kicked down the 400-year-old door of her family’s house and brutally tortured the family’s housemate. As the men dragged the body of the woman to a green van outside, Heine and her parents fled through the back door.
For the next five years, the three moved from one hiding place to another until World War II ended.
“Just helping Jews in any way was a crime punishable by death,” Heine said during the city of Berkeley’s 18th annual Holocaust Remembrance Day Program on April 8. “My mother taught me about the dangers by explaining to me if you speak, cry or make any noise then we will end up like the woman on the white tile floor, tortured and dead.”
Heine virtually shared her childhood experience living through WWII and the Holocaust during the program, which was established in honor and remembrance of the survivors, the dead and those who helped Holocaust victims.
In the candle-lighting ceremony, dozens of people spoke in remembrance of parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and other loved ones. A man remembered the 32 members of his family who were killed during the Holocaust, and another recalled how entire generations of families were wiped out.
“As the painful events of the Holocaust move away further in time, it is more important than ever to remember — to tell the stories so that those stories are not forgotten,” said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “Let us recommit ourselves to say ‘never again,’ and that we will stand for tolerance and inclusivity here in Berkeley and throughout the country.”
After the war ended, Heine described the weak, half-dead people who stumbled out of their hiding places “glowing” with relief. For millions of victims, however, it was too late.
While Heine now shares her stories in remembrance of those who died during the Holocaust, she initially struggled with moving forward from her traumatic past. Her family was rescued by American allies when she was six years old, but she had a hard time speaking at all after the war.
“When starting school, I was terrified of talking. I did not say a word, would run away when I heard a loud noise and wanted to hide from everyone,” Heine said during the program. “I had no clue how to act in a normal life without war and persecution.”
Sasha Clancy McQueen, whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors, also shared the experiences of her grandmother and great-grandmother. She described them as two “powerful” women who survived three concentration camps together.
McQueen is now determined to share the legacy of her family’s stories with her daughter and the world so that the lessons from the Holocaust will not be forgotten.
“We will never forget and never stop fighting against injustice, especially in today’s world,” McQueen said during the program. “My grandma always said those who stayed silent were just as dangerous as those who acted out. We must all speak up.”