"Last Stop Before Heaven, Don't Take It With You"
Ephraim Finch's Talk
On Sunday 21 September 1997, 20 people attended Ephraim Finch's talk. Ephraim is a wonderful speaker and is a reservoir of knowledge and history of the Melbourne Jewish Community.
Ephraim describes himself as "Jew by choice. He was a builder for 25 years and now sees himself as building and preserving the Jewish Community. He shared with us his experiences of discussing family histories with those who come to see him. He feels strongly about the importance of Survivors of the Holocaust and their children speaking together about their experiences before it is too late. He believes these stories need to be told and he discussed ways to open this dialogue. Ephraim said he faces the Holocaust every day and realises how difficult it is for Survivors and for the next generation especially in the face of current denials of history.
Quoting from the forward to Keneally's book "Schindler's Ark", Ephraim said "I cherish the people I come across every day." He meets people who have survived exceptional cruelty and is aware of their self-perceived guilt of having survived. And now having to face deniers of their experience he realises it is even more important to take their testimony. We, as a community, need to have this knowledge; for us, for our children and for future generations. If we don't have this information, so much will be lost.
Ephraim has been with the Chevra Kadisha for 12 years. He was unaware of the course he was on when he started there. When he started interviewing families, he realised the Chevra Kadisha didn't keep any records. All of the information collected went to the State Government's Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. He brought the Chevra Kadisha towards the 21st Century with record keeping and archives. He made the decision to collect family histories and it caused an upheaval in the system.
Ephraim is 3rd generation Australian-born; he has a desire to learn about the people he has joined. His background is German and Irish. In trying to record the history of the Melbourne Jewish Community, he tries to be consistent in the spelling of the names of European towns where people were born so it is all the same in Government records. Future generations will be amazed to find out where we all came from.
Ephraim told us his mind is a continual video of the people he meets and the places he visits and he is on a steep learning curve of the Jewish world. He sees his task as keeping history and recording details for all of us. When taking a last testimony, he does not take anyone for granted. His office is a tapestry of life where he listens, feels, laughs, cries, and shares the occasional drink of whisky - "L'chaim."
Ephraim has so many stories of life to tell. He used to think his job was to bury people; now he realises it is much more than that. It is one of filling in gaps of our community's history. The Family History Data Sheet he uses for extracting history is included in this newsletter. He finds out historical information that parents have not told their children, for example about first families that were lost in the war, previous spouses and children.
It is important to commemorate these predecessors and to register the children's names at the Yad Vashem Children's Pavilion, so they are not forgotten. Sometimes children from the second families do not know these details. It always moves him how these stories are still so raw today, over 50 years later.
Ephraim is trying to capture the details of religious life in Europe. Most of the Jews in Poland were very religious. He believes that if people find out their families were religious before the war, they may come back to the path; if not them, their children or grandchildren. "Once a Chasid, always a Chasid." This is reminding them of what their families once had. He has a book that lists all of the old family names before they disappear.
"I am constantly reminded of our duty to remember", he quotes from Elie Wiesel. Forgetfulness is feared as much as hatred and death. To forget is to deny. We remember: we were slaves in Egypt; we sanctify Shabbos; we live and grow under the sign of memory. We have a right to memory and a duty to keep it alive. Memory is the strength of our people and beyond humankind. What would our future be if we were devoid of memory?"
After his talk, Ephraim was asked: "What do you do with the information you gather?" He told us it is archived, kept to add to family trees. He keeps tabs on name changes to link families; he photographs numbers and the details of the numbers are passed on to the Holocaust Museum. This is a huge resource of information.
In summary, from Allen Brostek, it is comforting to know that survivors can at least share with Ephraim even if they can't share with their children. Ephraim agreed it is easier for some survivors to share with him and with grandchildren, especially since schools have been doing "Roots" projects.
Ephraim was a wonderful speaker, who generously stayed for discussion afterwards. One could listen to his stories for hours. We thank him for giving us his time.