Source: The S. Augustine Record
Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff took the Kirk Auditorium stage at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind on Feb. 29 for a special presentation, “The Holocaust Through Deaf Eyes.”
Soudakoff is currently executive director of the Jewish Deaf Foundation based in Brooklyn, New York.
Originally from Los Angeles and the son of deaf parents, Soudakoff attended Yeshivas Nefesh Dovid in Toronto, the world’s only Jewish high school program for deaf boys. He graduated with the class of 2009 and subsequently attended Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim Lubavitch — Chovevei Torah’s semicha program. He graduated with a rabbinical degree in the winter of 2012.
During the presentation, deaf middle and high school students made disapproving noises when the image of Adolf Hitler arose on the giant screen.
They already knew plenty about Hitler, but the historical presentation contained details of the lives of deaf individuals in Nazi Germany that they hadn’t learned in history classes.
Soudakoff opened his presentation by explaining the rise of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. He discussed why Jews became scapegoats in Germany. After the German economy tanked, Soudakoff said, “Their leadership sought a group to blame.”
Deaf Jews operated under a double setback — they were both Jewish and were thought to suffer from a hereditary disability that caused their deafness.
Some deaf Jewish individuals left Germany and headed to the U.S. under these horrible conditions, but others stayed for reasons ranging from fiscal to familial.
Soudakoff told students about a 1932 movie about deaf individuals, called “Verkannte Menschen” (translated as “Misunderstood People”) that was banned in 1934 in the wake of Hitler’s decree that anyone with a hereditary disability or condition would have no rights.
After the “Law for Preventing Offspring with Hereditary Diseases” was passed in Germany in 1933, 16,000 deaf people were sterilized.
To explain what Nazi Germany was like for deaf Jews, Soudakoff told the story of Lotte Friedman, a young, deaf school girl.
On Nov. 9, 1938, Nazi paramilitary forces and German civilians carried out a massive, coordinated attack on Jews throughout Germany and Austria. The assault, known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, lasted into the next day.
Because she was deaf, Lotte did not know about the sounds that kept Jewish families awake that night — the sounds of shattering glass when Gestapo agents smashed the windows of Jewish shops.
The following morning, Lotte walked to school, taking her usual route. Along the way, she was shocked by the broken glass that littered the streets and the sight of shop owners being beaten by Gestapo agents.
Soudakoff shared many difficult statistics, which were occasionally accompanied by images.
Photos of synagogues burned to the ground, starving, skeletal Jewish men living in concentration camps and the Warsaw ghetto held the students’ attention throughout the presentation.
In addition to traveling around the country and speaking to deaf students, Soudakoff organizes an annual international summer camp program for Jewish deaf children and teenagers.
To learn about the Jewish Deaf Foundation and the summer camp program, go to jewishdeaffoundation.org.