Toledo's annual observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day expands beyond the Jewish community for the first time this year.
The 2013 Community Yom HaShoah Program will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the University of Toledo's Driscoll Alumni Center, 2800 W. Bancroft St., and is free and open to the public.
"Resilience and Courage: Women in the Holocaust," features speaker and Holocaust survivor Paula Marks-Bolton, 86, of West Bloomfield, Mich.
Mrs. Marks-Bolton was born in Ozarkow, Poland, and she was a prisoner in Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and other concentration camps as a teenager after the Nazis invaded Poland. The Ravensbruck camp was specifically for women and children.
"I was liberated April 15, 1945, in Bergen-Belsen," she said in a telephone interview.
Mrs. Marks-Bolton doesn't talk just about the past. "I have been speaking [publicly] for 22 years," she said. "What I [have taught] for the past 22 years is love and understanding among all people. It should never make any difference what nationality, religion, or color of skin a person is. We are all connected. We are all brother and sister. We should speak up whenever there is an injustice."
Mrs. Marks-Bolton is "a dynamic speaker," said Wendy Goldstein, Jewish Community Relations Council director and campaign director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo. Mrs. Goldstein said that Mrs. Marks-Bolton "goes into how to live life as a woman after being in such a horrific situation."
"I lost 60-something people in my family," Mrs. Marks-Bolton said. "In spite of that, I grew up as a person full of love for the whole world, and that is what my message is."
Mrs. Marks-Bolton will also speak to 275 high school students and teachers Thursday morning at the annual diversity program that the Jewish Federation's Ruth Fajerman Markowicz Resource Center presents. That assembly, which is full and has a waiting list, is at the McMaster Family Center for Lifelong Learning at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
"Kids need to be educated about the Holocaust not just from a book and not just from a teacher, but from someone who has survived the Holocaust," Mrs. Goldstein said.
"It's only a handful of people who really can speak about this," Mrs. Marks-Bolton said. "Our survivors are dying out; most of our survivors are in their 80s and 90s. A few years from now, there will be no survivors left." She speaks at least twice a week at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich.
"It's a life-changing event, a life-changing story when those kids come into the auditorium when I speak," Mrs. Marks-Bolton said. "It's so amazing; they come right down the road with my past. I see the words, when I'm speaking I live them, and my audience feels the same way. They say, ‘Paula, you changed my life. I will never look at another person like I used to.'"
Though Holocaust Remembrance Day is held in reverence by Jewish people, it "isn't a religious holiday at all," said Mrs. Goldstein. "Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, but that wasn't it. We had Christians dying in the Holocaust, we had, well, all religions being persecuted. This is not a Jewish holiday, and it's not a holiday, we don't even use that word."
The day is "to show respect and remember the people that have perished during the Holocaust," Mrs. Goldstein said, "and to show the survivors that we have not forgotten them. That's why we come together as a community."
Mrs. Marks-Bolton's evening presentation will be followed by a memorial service led by clergy from the three Toledo-area synagogues.
Contact TK Barger at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.