OAKVILLE – At the Al Falah Islamic Centre in Oakville, a crowd of Muslims gathered Wednesday evening to listen to a guest speaker who wouldn’t ordinarily attend the venue.
Gerda Frieberg is a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
Accompanied by a Rabbi, she was invited to speak to the group of Muslim men, women and children about her experience, and the horrors she witnessed growing up in Poland.
“Any place of worship that I’m invited I feel that that’s the place to speak because we are close to God, doesn’t matter what name, we are all here, the world belongs to everybody,” she told Global News.
“I feel it’s good, it’s a brotherhood. We are all children of God.”
Personal testimony is a big part of Holocaust Education Week (HEW) 2017, organized by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Centre.
Hearing from survivors is not new, but it is certainly unique at a Mosque.
“Just to have all of us seated in the same room I think that is a powerful message to send,” said Mohamed Khan, who came to hear Frieberg speak.
Raheel Raza, president of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, took part in a HEW panel discussion last weekend.
“We must all be aware of what people have done in the name of evil because it could happen again, it could happen to us and it is happening in many parts of the world,” she said.
As Frieberg spoke, the crowd was silent — many hearing a firsthand account of the Holocaust for the first time.
Some were even moved to tears.
“It’s a story that needs to be told, and as we got older I realized there won’t be any survivors to tell the story,” she remarked.
Hers is a long and troubling story.
She grew up in Poland. Her father was taken away in 1939.
A year later, along with her mother and sister, she was deported to a ghetto. Eventually, they landed in a concentration camp.
“Three long years we were hoping and praying to be free,” she said.
“I came I was 16, I came out I was 19, — I was never a teenager.”
Gerda Frieberg explained to the audience it is Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass.”
Seventy-nine years ago, thousands and thousands of Jewish people were subjected to terror and violence by the Nazis, synagogues were burned, windows of shops were shattered.
“The night of broken dreams,” Frieberg called it.
The most poignant moment of the evening happened at the very end of her emotional speech.
A Muslim man asked, “How can we ensure this doesn’t happen again?”
“We’re starting here tonight, with events like this,” she replied.