I believe there was a Holocaust. As the number of survivors of the Holocaust is rapidly dwindling, as Holocaust deniers, from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to neo-Nazi groups spew their revisionist history even as the survivors are still alive to tell the truth, as the world witnesses a resurgence of anti-semitism as well as genocied in places like Rwanda and Darfur, I believe it is critical to remember that there was a HOlocaust. I believe that we must study the Holocaust, learn from it, teach our children about it, bear witness to it, and honor the memory of it, lest we face the most evil banalities of humankind again, and lest we be condemnced to repeat them.
I am a first generation American, the child and grandchild of survivors of the Holocaust.
As a seven year old girl my mother was hidden in a convent. Efforts to convert her were more terrifying than the fear of death and she ran back to the ghetto to be with her parents. My mom was a blond haired blue eyed child and could easily “pass” as not Jewish, but even as a child she knew who she was and wanted to stand along with her parents and neighbors in the ghetto as a proud Jew. Her father had arranged passage to Palestine and sent my mother and grandmother ahead the night before, planning to join them the next day. There was no next day, the Lvov ghetto was burned that night and he perished there. My mother and grandmother escaped to the house of their former cook where they were hidden in a closet in the basement for nearly two years, emerging only on occasion in the middle of the night when it was “safe.”
My father grew up in Poland’s Carpathian mountains where his family, a family rich in Rabbinical history and steeped in Orthodox tradition, ran a pension popular with the religious Jewish communities of Poland. He was only thirteen years old when his mother, father and two brothers were killed by the Nazis. My father was a strong boy and able to work so he was sent to a labor camp where he quickly taught himself to be a blacksmith. With his newly acquired knowledge my father was sent to the Plascow concentration camp, made famous in the movie “Schindler’s List.” My father was lucky, he was strong, smart and “on the list” and so he survived.
My parents met at a displaced persons camp after the war. My mother was only fifteen, my father only twenty-two, and yet they had already witnessed death on a scale most of us will never, and should never, see. They married, came to America, and built a new life. They never hid their stories of survival from my sister and me, nor did their circle of friends, many of whom are also survivors. And so I’ve heard those stories all my life, and I’ve seen the tears shed by the story tellers as they recount he memories of their families that perished and of a world that is no more.
The youngest survivors of the Holocaust are now in their seventies, the oldest are nearing 100. They are still here to tell their stories. We must listen to those stories and we must retell them. Because I believe there was a Holocaust and if we do not learn from history we are condemned to repeat it.
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