BERLIN — Assia Gorban was 7 years old when the Germans occupied her hometown of Mogilev-Podolsky in Ukraine. The Jewish girl and her family were first imprisoned in a ghetto on the outskirts of town and later forced onto a cattle car that took them to the Pechora concentration camp in 1941.
After a few failed attempts, Gorban, her mother, and younger brother managed to escape in 1942, and spent the rest of World War II living under false identities until they were liberated in 1944.
Sitting in her apartment in Berlin, where she still lives on her own at age 89, Gorban vividly remembers the horrendous details of her time in the camp and during hiding from the Nazis who wanted to kill her only because she was Jewish.
She likes to share her memories with her granddaughter, 19-year-old Ruth Gorban, a university student, who also lives in Berlin and visits her frequently at home.
“My grandmother is amazing,” said Ruth, sitting next to Gorban on the couch. “I even invited her to my school, so that everyone in my class could hear from her personally about the Holocaust.”
Both Assia and Ruth also participated in the new digital campaign called “Our Holocaust Story: A Pledge to Remember,” which was launched Tuesday by the New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, also referred to as the Claims Conference.
Six million Jews and people from other groups were murdered by the Nazis and their henchmen during the Holocaust and people worldwide commemorate the victims on Tuesday — which is Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah as it is called in Israel.
Today, approximately 240,000 survivors are still alive, living in Europe, Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere.
The campaign by the Claims Conference features survivors and their descendants from around the globe and illustrates the importance of passing on the Holocaust survivors’ testimonies to younger family members as the number of survivors dwindles.
“We are doing this new social media campaign because survivors are dying,” said Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference.
“The stories that they hold, the wisdom and knowledge that they can share is too important, too vital for society, particularly in these challenging times, to let it die with them,” Schneider said in a phone interview from New York with The Associated Press.
More than 100 Holocaust survivors and their families are participating in the campaign, all of whom will be featured in posts across the Claims Conference’s social media platforms every week throughout the year. Survivor stories will be shared on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, using the hashtag #OurHolocaustStory.
“When we see a Holocaust survivor with their family members, it sends a powerful message — they didn’t just survive the Holocaust, they went on to live, to build a family, a family that would not exist if they had not survived,” Schneider added.
Assia Gorban was liberated by the Soviet Union’s Red Army in 1944. She later moved to Moscow, where she became a school teacher. While she loved the Russian capital, especially for its vivid cultural scene, she and her husband decided to emigrate to Germany in 1992, looking for more financial stability and following her son, who had moved there earlier.
Even at her old age, Gorban is still an active member of Berlin’s Jewish community, volunteering weekly at the Jewish nursing home and talking to high school students about her life.
“I enjoy speaking in school and helping old people at the nursing home — it keeps me fit,” Gorban said with a cheeky smile and in blissful ignorance of the fact that she’s turning 90 in August.
One reason why Ruth Gorban decided to participate in the campaign with her grandmother was her concern about the reemergence of antisemitism in Germany and elsewhere.
Pulling her necklace with a Star of David pendant from underneath her sweater, the young woman with the long dark hair explained that she prefers to hide it when she’s in public.
“Berlin has a reputation for tolerance and diversity — but when it comes to the acceptance of Jews, that’s unfortunately not true,” she said.
Still, hearing from her grandmother about the Holocaust, made Ruth Gorban very much aware of her own Jewishness.
“I’m proud to be Jewish,” she said. “It’s a beautiful religion and I will definitely pass it on to my children when I’m a mother one day.”