Festival of Tolerance Aims To Educate City’s Youths

Festival of Tolerance Aims To Educate City’s Youths

Published: November 23, 2011 (Issue # 1684)

“It’s quite an expensive mission, I pay for it every day,” said Maria Rolnikaite, a Holocaust survivor in her eighties, when discussing her life-long dedication to speaking publically about her experiences.

Rolnikaite is the author of “I Must Tell You,” a memoir chronicling her experiences in both ghettos and a concentration camp. The book has been published in more than eighteen languages, including German and Japanese.

She began writing the book as a personal diary when she was fourteen and living in the ghetto. Fearful that her writing would be discovered, her mother instructed her to get rid of it and learn the words by heart. The final result was “I Must Tell You.”

“After the war, most prisoners found work, trying to move on, but after the publication of the book, it is like being at the ghetto again,” says Rolnikaite. However, she says, “I feel so much responsibility…People must know…So that it will never be repeated.”

One of the events Rolnikaite has spoken at most frequently is the annual Festival of Tolerance in St. Petersburg. The Festival of Tolerance, which had its fifth three-day exhibit last week, is an event committed to remembering and memorializing the Holocaust. It honors those such as Rolnikaite, who have devoted their lives to informing others about their experiences.

The Festival of Tolerance is hosted by EVO, a Jewish center dedicated to a wide range of events in St. Petersburg. The center holds language and computer classes, runs a soup kitchen and offers activities for senior citizens.

The Festival of Tolerance has a mainly artistic concentration, with art exhibitions and an annual theater performance. Two of the three days are hosted at Yessod, a Jewish community center in St. Petersburg, and are open to all visitors. The event is geared, however, toward high school students.

High schools in St. Petersburg participate by bringing their mostly non-Jewish students to hear survivors such as Rolnikaite speak and learn from the annually themed exhibitions. Past themes have included Anne Frank and Righteous Among the World’s Nations, honoring Righteous Gentiles. This year’s theme was Holocaust and Memory.

“The whole idea of memory is to first remember the life before, which is gone, and also remember the victims themselves,” says Tanya Lvova, a director at EVO and one of the main organizers of the Festival of Tolerance.

Part of the exhibit included posters that centered on former Jewish communities from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania and Latvia. Each poster described the history of the Jewish community in a specific city or town, and its subsequent destruction during the war.

“It’s important because this isn’t just a Jewish topic, it’s wider. It’s one of the biggest examples of genocide and what intolerance and xenophobia can lead to,” says Lvova.

Though Rolnikaite was the speaker for the past four years, this year’s speaker was Aron Weiss, a Holocaust specialist from Jerusalem and Holocaust survivor himself.

Students were deeply affected by the exhibit on the theme of memory, said one young woman who requested not to be named.

“It is important to remember that it didn’t end with victory but rather discrimination and looking for easy answers to difficult questions.”

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