And as she told the Grade 12 students from Toronto’s Birchmount Park Collegiate about her experiences — first, having to sew the Star of David on her dresses, then being sent to a concentration camp and, later, a forced-labour camp — they began thinking about all that she’d been through, and what she’d missed out on. The kinds of things they take for granted.
Moved by Bohm’s story, the next day 18-year-old Rowan Kelly suggested an idea to his classmates: Could she attend their prom? “I thought it was such a great idea, and a great way to make relationships with the community,” said Tania Camuti, who teaches a course on challenge and change in society, which covers hate crime and genocide.
“It showed a real sense of empathy and compassion in a generation that’s sometimes stigmatized for not having any empathy and compassion.”
Camuti ran with the idea and sought the approval of the vice-principal and prom committee. She even acted as chauffeur Monday night, taking Bohm to the Liberty Grand where the Holocaust survivor was honoured with a handmade memory book.
“Her childhood was just taken away from her,” said Kelly on why he made the suggestion and planned to dance with her.
Bohm, now 86, was born in Romania and in 1944 she and her parents were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were separated. She never saw them again.
Bohm was later sent to a German labour camp, where she worked in an old car plant, making landmines and V2 rockets. When the war ended, she lived in Romania with an aunt who’d only survived because she’d married someone who was not Jewish and had converted.
A few years later, Bohm married and moved to Canada.
Camuti has taken three classes of students to Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre as part of a lesson on discrimination and was so impressed by Bohm that after their first meeting she’s requested her again and again.
After Kelly’s suggestion, the next class to visit in May brought Bohm the invitation, along with a bouquet of flowers. Bohm didn’t hesitate in her answer.
“The fact that Hedy had to leave her friends so abruptly — some she never saw again — it puts into perspective how lucky we are and the fact that we get to say goodbye to our friends before we part ways, and hopefully we will still see them down the road,” said Grade 12 student Brigitte Donaghy, who was on that class trip and also happened to be a member of the prom committee.
For Bohm, it’s her second prom after being invited by a group of students back in 2011. She only began speaking about her experiences eight years ago, because before that she couldn’t do so without breaking down.
“I make sure I convey a message to them beyond my story — about being strong enough to stand up if they see prejudice or anti-Semitism or when they see injustice, Holocaust denial,” said Bohm. “That they should not be bystanders . . . They have to live up to be the best in themselves.”
The original article for the article by Kristen Rushowy on June 24, 2014 copied above can be found online at The Star.com