Friday, May 2, 2008

Holocaust Remembrance Day

I debated long and hard about putting up a post yesterday for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yes, oh yes, I believe that we all of us should remember those terrifying events of the Shoah. Yes, our children need to know what went on and why. But my perspective is a little bit different--allow me to explain why.

For me, the Shoah is not someone else's history. I was born in Europe after the war. My parents were camp survivors. My parents went back to their homes after the war, found almost no one living from their immediate families (my mother had one sister who survived, my father had two brothers who survived), found each other (the families had known of each other before the war) got married and had me. They would end up in Bucharest. They got out of Bucharest only a few hours before the Russians invaded and took over. They left everything that could not be carried in a backpack, drugged me up so I wouldn't cry out and give them away, and escaped over the border. They made their way to Germany and ended up living in a displaced persons camp, bitterly, ironically a camp created in Bergen Belsen. At that point they would have gone to Israel or to the US, whichever one they could actually get papers for.

The Jewish Community Center in Portland, Oregon, offered to stand as sponsor for a number of families who could not otherwise get papers to emigrate, and off we went. My mother's sister would arrive in Portland a year later, as the Center worked to reunite families wherever possible. One of my father's brothers had left previously to Israel--he was much younger and single. The other brother, married, got stuck in Romania. He would spend time in a Romanian prison, having been caught smuggling on the black market, the only way open to Jews to survive there. It would be many years before this uncle and his family could get out of Romania. We tried and were unsuccessful. It was only through the efforts of the then Skulener Rebbi that a group of Romanian Jews was finally given permission to leave the country.

My father rarely if ever mentioned to us children his experiences during the war. He would tell stories of his childhood but was silent about the war. He spoke some to my mother and she became the depository of both family's histories.

My mother was the story teller in our family and she spoke often of what her life was like as a child, growing up, and yes, during the war. Because she spoke to us our family history came alive. It was not merely history, something that happened to someone else, but became part of the fabric of our own lives. And when my children were born, she repeated the process with them.

I can speak of my grandparents and great grandparents and my aunts and uncles and cousins in the here and now, even though I was never privileged to meet them, because my mother made them a part of our lives. I could probably draw you a house plan of where my grandparents lived. I know who their neighbors were. I know how long the walk was to school. I know how they shopped, how they dressed, what they did.

So perhaps that is what kept me from a specific post yesterday. The Shoah is not something I need a specific day to remember. I remember it every day. I walk down my hallway and see the rare pictures my mother found after the war of her parents and grandmother. There is the picture of my uncles. I look down at my hand dozens of times a day, and there, on my finger, is my grandmother's engagement ring, a gift given to me by my mother as I am named after that grandmother, and which has never been off my finger since my mother gave the ring to me. I wear my great grandmother's bracelet and feel it stroke my arm as I so would have loved to have her do.

But we "celebrated" Holocaust Remembrance Day in a very different way yesterday. My first cousin married off his daughter last night. There we were, all the first cousins and their children and some of their children's children, all gathered together. There was my uncle, the kallah's grandfather, and my mother, the kallah's great aunt, concentration camp survivors both. We watched as this beautiful young couple promised to build a "bayis ne'eman b'Yisroel." What better thumbing of the nose at the Nazis and all those who tried for the destruction of all the Jews then to watch a frum Jewish couple get married. To paraphrase an old saying, "The best revenge is living."

At some point today or maybe tomorrow someone in my family will start a story "Die Baba Gittel hot gezogt" and the Holocaust will be remembered, even if only for a quick moment. It will be remembered in that feeling of resentment that something precious, something that belonged to me, something that was a part of me, was stolen away.

Remember the Holocaust? How could I possibly forget it. And if God gives me years, it will be my privilege and yes, my job, to give my children and grandchildren over what my mother has given to me. In me lies the repository of knowledge that is the birthright of my family--knowledge of where they came from and how we got from then to now.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing about this. I am also one of those wartime babies. I agree that for you and me and maybe our children the Holocaust is not just a history fact. But we need that Holocaust Remembrance Day to show the world that we remember and that they should too. The Day is for those who are farther removed from the Holocaust or who don't have the personal history that keeps it alive for them.

SaraK said...

Beautiful post.

Leora said...

Thanks for sharing.

Agree with Lily, it's for the rest of the world.