The Gift Of Remembrance

This article was first published as “Saved documents help local survivor recount saga” in JWeekly.

Denise Kopecky shows some of her facsimile documents.

When Denise Elbert graduated from medical school in 1968, her grandmother gave her a gift. In a box. But it wasn’t a typical graduation gift. Far from it.

Inside was a cache of carefully preserved documents from the 1940s and earlier that bore witness to her family’s history — from the good times to the very, very bad. There were Nazi and Holocaust-related documents, and postcards sent from the death camp where her mother and father perished.

The material inside was so politically sensitive and personally precious that when Denise snuck out of communist Czechoslovakia shortly after her graduation, she dared not take the box with her on the train, instead making arrangements for its safe-keeping.

Denise eventually got the box back, and last week she shared some of its keepsake items — along with her own saga as a Holocaust survivor and a political refugee — with a group of 100 middle school students at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto. The April 29 talk was in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day two days later.

Now Dr. Denise Kopecky, 69, she told the students how she had lost her parents in the Holocaust, was forced to live in hiding with her grandma in the mountains and sent to a concentration camp.

She also told them about 1968, when she was 27 and Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to squelch an attempted uprising against communist rule. She decided to make an illegal escape and hopped on a train to anywhere.

Click here to read more.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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