What Sonja Marsh Taught Us About History

Remarks from Sonja Marsh in Ayduth Lachayim,  from the State Library of Ohio Rare Books Collection via Ohio Memory.
Remarks from Sonja Marsh in Ayduth Lachayim, from the State Library of Ohio Rare Books Collection via Ohio Memory.

A little over a year ago we shared a document with you on the Ohio Memory blog. The document is entitled Ayduth Lachayim: Witness to Life, and it contains the accounts of nearly 170 Holocaust survivors. One of the survivors in the document is Sonja Marsh, and we featured her photograph as part of the blog post. Unfortunately, Mrs. Marsh passed away on June 20 of this year after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sonja, her husband, Earl, and grandson Yitzy, taken 2012. Photograph courtesy of the Marsh family.
Sonja, her husband, Earl, and grandson Yitzy, taken 2012. Photograph courtesy of the Marsh family.

Mrs. Marsh’s daughter, Karen, was kind enough to send notification of her mother’s passing. In her email, she mentioned having been curious about her mother’s experience as a Jewish person in a Nazi-occupied territory but that she had been afraid to ask her mother questions. Ultimately, it was through her mother’s correspondence that she gained an understanding of what her mother had gone through.

In a way, Karen is fortunate in that she has written documentation to sift through. Many of us do not. In fact, Ohio Memory exists to fill holes in our understanding of the people and events of the past and the places in which those events occurred. Time is fleeting, and human life is relatively brief. What do we do when the people who know what happened are gone?

The purpose of this blog post is two-fold. First, it is to remember Sonja Marsh, who hid, as a small child, from the people who sought to eliminate her and all others like her simply due to bigotry so that we can ensure it does not happen again. But it is also to remind our readers to reach out, now, to the people in your lives who are still here and have a story to tell. We are rapidly losing the generation who experienced World War II, for example. Ohio Memory holds a collection of video histories of World War II veterans, but if you know someone who experienced it, talk to him or her. Listen to what he or she says. Learn from the ones who were there.

From an interview with Edward E. Aring, Jr., who served with the 3rd Marine Division in the Philippine Islands during WWII. Courtesy of the NORWELD oral history collection www.norweld.org  "My War: Northwest Ohioans Remember World War II" on Ohio Memory.
From an interview with Edward E. Aring, Jr., who served with the 3rd Marine Division in the Philippine Islands during WWII. Courtesy of the NORWELD oral history collection “My War: Northwest Ohioans Remember World War II” on Ohio Memory.

Find out about your own family. What was life like for them when they were growing up? What events altered their lives? What was important to them, and what is important now? Discovering facts about their history will help you understand yourself, your life, your place in the world.

Consider documenting your own history, as well, either in written form or via video or audio. Take time to explain what matters to you. Do not think that your experience is insignificant. To someone, your document will be a treasure.

Mrs. Marsh contributed her story to Ayduth Lachayim in response to those who claimed the Holocaust was a hoax. She wanted to ensure that generations who came after her didn’t forget what happened. Though she may not have considered it at the time, Mrs. Marsh’s message is significant beyond her experience and applies to the experiences of every human being on Earth. The events of our lives — those that happen to us and our responses to them — are shaped by history and influence the future. They matter. Take time to talk about your life, and learn about the lives of those around you. And think of Mrs. Marsh, and millions like her, when you do.

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Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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