NoVa synagogue remembers survivors’ stories

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Pictures and artifacts from Temple B’nai Shalom’s children of Holocaust survivors will be on display through the end of May. Photo by Justin Katz
Pictures and artifacts from Temple B’nai Shalom’s children of Holocaust survivors will be on display through the end of May.
Photo by Justin Katz

I don’t need Yom Hashoah because I live with this every day,” says Frank Kohn, a child of Holocaust survivors. “We don’t need an observance day because we grew up with pictures of people we never knew.”

Nevertheless Kohn, and other members of Temple B’nai Shalom’s children of Holocaust survivors support group contributed stories and artifacts to the Fairfax Station congregation’s Yom Hashoah display.


A map near the display traces the journeys of the families of support group members.

Julia Salpeter, born in Hungary, has lived in Northern Virginia for more than 30 years. She has two artifacts on a display: a framed photograph of a young boy and a document written in Hungarian.

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“Paragraph one [of the document] says that my father is now released from what they called hard labor,” she said. “It was really the forced labor that Hungarian men were subject to and that is how he survived the war. Paragraph two says he has a wife and child who perished in Auschwitz.”

The photograph is of the son Salpeter’s father lost. He later married the woman who is Salpeter’s mother, who was also a survivor. Salpeter said that when she was growing up, she didn’t ask many questions of her parents.


“[The picture] was on their dresser, but not a word was said,” she said. “Somehow, as a child of a survivor, you understand that you can’t ask questions.”

Kohn’s parents were more open about their experiences. He believes this is because they escaped from Germany during the war.

He said that during his childhood, Americans didn’t fully comprehend the full extent of the Holocaust.

“I grew up in the ‘60s. My friends knew nothing about Holocaust,” Kohn said. “It wasn’t in the history books; World War II was [in the books], but not the Holocaust.”

It wasn’t until he was an adult that he learned that his extended family had remained hidden in Berlin during the war. His own parents escaped with little time to spare.

“My father [said], if he ever leaves Germany, it’ll be on the last train out,” said Kohn. “Had he waited one more day — the Nazis changed the age restriction, so he did leave on the last train out.”

In Kohn’s display, there are prayer books; a menorah, which he recently learned is more than 100 years old; and two silver candlesticks, which the family brought out from Germany. They thought the candlesticks would be confiscated as valuable items, but the official who inspected their luggage declared them tin and let them pass.

Kohn said his family isn’t sure whether the inspector truly believed the candlesticks were tin or if he didn’t want to be bothered with the process of confiscating them. Regardless, he said, the candlesticks, like the other items in the display, “are survivors of the Holocaust” in their own way.

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