Commemoration and celebration – "The Buchenwald Ball"

The Ball of the Year – Invitation to 30th Anniversary Buchenwald Ball
The Ball of the Year – Invitation to 30th Anniversary Buchenwald Ball

Every year, on 11 April, the Buchenwald Boys and their families gather around the monument, or at the chapel, in the Jewish Chevra Kaddisha Cemetery in Springvale, Victoria. They say Kaddish, the memorial prayer, for their families who were murdered in the Holocaust, and to remember the Boys and their wives who have passed away in Australia.

As part of this annual ceremony, the Boys and the second and third generations tell the stories of suffering and survival. They continue to tell and retell the Boys’ stories so that their children and their grandchildren, and their children for generations to come, will know that their grandfathers were all liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp.

The solemn ceremony of commemoration is followed by the “Buchenwald Ball”. As the name of the occasion suggests, the Ball is an occasion of many emotions. For many of the Boys, 11 April, signifying a turning point in the death and darkness that surrounded them, feels like their rebirth. While always remembering their parents and their traumatic pasts, the Boys look ahead with hope, as they wish one another “happy birthday”.

The annual Buchenwald Balls have become legendary.

When the Boys and their wives were younger, the Ball was a grand party in the evening, where they all rejoiced in their love of dancing and singing Yiddish songs. In more recent years, the Balls have become luncheons attended by about 200 people, including the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of the Boys. These luncheons continue the tradition of dancing and singing the Yiddish songs that their fathers and grandfathers loved.

In their early days, the Boys danced to celebrate their liberation, and then they danced to celebrate that they were still celebrating. Now they dance, relishing their old age, and passing the torch of remembrance and continuity to their children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.

The 75th anniversary of liberation fell during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The community feared the spread of COVID-19 and the Victorian government had restricted the number of people permitted at gatherings. As a result, for the first time, the Boys and their families could not meet. The second generation created a YouTube video to ensure that 11 April 2020 still marked the commemoration and celebration of the liberation of the Buchenwald Boys.

The Ball has become a luncheon where four generations participate, Buchenwald Ball 2017.
The Ball has become a luncheon where four generations participate, Buchenwald Ball 2017. Courtesy Andrew Harris.
The Boys dancing together at the Buchenwald Ball 2019
The Boys dancing together at the Buchenwald Ball 2019

For all the Boys, their success is the establishment of the continuity that was nearly denied them. Their children and grandchildren have shown a commitment to this continuity through the annual Buchenwald Ball, and through their involvement and, in some cases, leading roles in Jewish education, Holocaust scholarship, Jewish communal organisations and support for Israel.

The story of the Buchenwald Boys, while always the same, has been told in different ways, from different perspectives. It has been told and retold so that it continues to shape and influence the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Boys at Buchenwald Boys exhibition at Immigration Museum Melbourne, 2005
Boys at Buchenwald Boys exhibition at Immigration Museum Melbourne, 2005
Salek R's poignant poem was written on invitations to many of the Buchenwald Balls.
Salek R's poignant poem was written on invitations to many of the Buchenwald Balls.