Shulamit Bastacky: A Hero of the Past and Present


Talia Akiva (left), Lydia Thomas (second from left), and Sophie Levitt (right) pose with Ms. Bastacky.

Talia Akiva and Lydia Thomas

We had the privilege of going to the opening of the Chutz Pow Volume Three, a comic book that tells the story of the heroic survivors of the Holocaust. While we were visiting the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh for this event, we had the opportunity to meet Shulamit Bastacky, a survivor of the horrific Holocaust. When speaking to her, she gave us the challenge of organizing a day where she could come and tell her story to two periods of the 10th grade English class who are currently learning about different genocides and reading the book Night by Elie Wiesel. We talked to Mr. Smith and after many phone calls and meetings, we were able to set a date to have Ms. Shulamit come speak to us. We thought this was such a unique and cool experience because there are few survivors left and we are probably the last generation to be able to see and speak to survivors in person.

When first picking her up from her apartment in Squirrel Hill, she was ready on the sidewalk with a bright pink winter hat on her head and a big smile on her face. This moment really spoke to who she is and how we experienced her in and out of the classroom. Although she has experienced one of the most terrible times in history, she spends her days at the age of 76 inspiring young children to create change and do good in the world. “It takes energy to hate; use that energy to do something good,” she told the class, as she shared her story as a hidden child in the care of a Roman Catholic nun. She shared that the Holocaust “brought out the worst in people but also brought out the best.” She said she was incredibly lucky to land in the arms of someone willing to risk their life to help her.

For the first three years of her life she was hidden in a cellar with no access to light or sound, without the nourishment a child, specifically a newborn, needs. After the war ended she shared, “I remember being scared of the sun.” Still today she is frightened by sudden noises, for example, a phone ringing, as well as being in an enclosed area. A recurring theme that Ms. Bastacky shared was how we are all human beings and should treat one another with dignity. Even when she spoke about herself and her own story she said that she does not see herself as “superior or inferior, I simply consider myself a human being.” She explained that she was lucky three times: being protected by a caring nun, being brought to an orphanage at the end of the war, and her dad finding her because of a birthmark she had.

Ms. Bastacky shares her story with over 600 students a year and encourages them to make a difference. When asked the question, “Do you think the world is nicer now?”, she responded with a direct “no”. She talked about reading the news and how she still experiences anti-semitism. When we told her we were marching on the 24th with March for our Lives, she gasped and was so happy that we were standing up for what we believe in. When we walked her back up to her apartment after the talk, she proceeded to give us an entire box of Israeli wafers for the ride to the march and made us promise we would save them for the 24th.

Overall, the experience was amazing. Her story was interesting and educational. However, the one thing we didn’t expect was to feel so inspired. We are beyond pleased it worked out and will be keeping in touch with her in the future.