Today is the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, and at the former concentration camp world leaders and survivors congregate to remember the anniversary of liberation and those who perished. For the survivors, their courage to return to the former concentration camp, a place once of their bondage, is something that I cannot fathom because I know that my grandparents would never want to revisit such a dark and horrific part of their past, and I understand their sentiment and completely respect it.
It was only a couple of weeks ago in early January that I was in Poland on a Jewish learning and heritage trip that was offered by a Jewish Organization from my campus. I had been to Poland before, 4 years ago on a similar type of trip provided by my gap year program, Young Judaea, but I’ve had a unending and incomplete desire to return to Poland to seek answers. To see Poland again, to try and understand what happened here, what happened to my family, and how humanity could have been so inhumane to each other, during such a horrific and dark period of time for mankind. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but it wouldn’t be the first time that such events occurred to people who were dehumanized; for instance, the Armenian Genocide that occurred almost two and a half decades before the Holocaust.
It’s been almost 5 months since my late grandmother’s passing, and not a moment goes by each day that reminds me of my grandmother’s strong and inspiring character. She was the glue that held everyone together in our family. It wouldn’t be a Shabbat if we didn’t go over to my grandmother’s house on Friday nights to be comforted by her authentic and soulful matzo ball soup, juicy and voluptuous salmon, and her hand crafted and delicately made Hungarian pastries. I’ll be forever grateful of the memories that I shared with my grandmother, whether it would be taking her from our store to run errands, to our phone calls, shabbat dinners, and also just spending time with her at her home putting on records and hearing her sing. God I wish I could still hear her voice, but it hasn’t disappeared from me at all, and her memory and her legacy still continues on.
I understand that each Jewish grandparent is special to us, for they are the foundation in a Jewish family. But in today’s day and age, the origin of my grandparents and their heroic and inspiring stories are one not most commonly shared through their children or grandchildren due to the dwindling community and the nature of aging. We’ve been saying it for a while this past decade, but the Holocaust Survivor community is sadly reaching it’s end of the stretch. It’s important, and urgent, more now than ever, if you have relatives that are Holocaust Survivor’s, or know of any in your community; don’t be afraid to ask them what happened and understand the atrocities committed against humanity, so that we can remember, and learn how to be kind to one another.
I am very fortunate for the family that I have in my life, and every moment that I spent with my grandparents. But, from an early age, I knew that there was something different about my family from the rest of my Jewish friend’s families, but I didn’t know quite what it was. I remember hearing the quarrel between my grandmother Bobby and my grandfather Simon, in a strange and completely foreign language that didn’t sound like anything else that I ever heard before in my life, and I knew that it was more than a language; it was a language of hardship and emotion,love and laughter, and exile. I didn’t know if other children my age knew Yiddish from their grandparents, and sometimes I felt very different than other children my age even. I spent a lot of time in my childhood at my grandparents house with my siblings and cousins, and it was a big influence on me spending time with them.
I love life and being able to have the opportunities that I’ve had at my age. I am very fortunate, and even though I’m not strictly observant, I am a faithful and proud Jew. Compared to what I grandparents had experienced by my age, there is no way that I can even complain or be a negative person. But, as a grandchild of holocaust survivors, it feels almost as there has been an indirect pain or sadness that I share, about family that I’ve never met because they were taken away to soon and unjustly. I was in shock and awe when I came across a reference to my family’s history when I was in Poland. We visited the recently opened Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. In the last exhibit, Jewish life Post-World War II, there was a wall to commemorate Jews that had been murdered in gruesome and mostly Polish Nationalist extremist Pogroms. I knew that three of my grandfather’s brothers had survived the war, but were murdered when they returned to their hometown of Boleslawiec in the Silesia provence of Poland on Erev Hannukah. They were just going to see if they had anything valuable to take with them before they were to move to Eretz Yisrael, but after the news, my grandfather was devastated that his brothers were murdered and that he wished that he had gone with them. I remember how every Hannukah at my grandparents, my grandfather Simon would be upset, but I was too young to know the reason of his pain. Ever since my knowledge of these incidents that occurred to my family, it hurts me and causes me to become upset, even though I have no direct relation to this event. I thank G-d that I did’t have to, and nobody should be subject to anything tragic, but it still hurts.
But, there’s nothing you can do about the past, because it has already been written. Dwelling on the past can be unhealthy and harm our being in the present. We have to cherish our time with our loved ones and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to us. I don’t dwell on the past often, but sometimes there is a trigger that reopens a wound and it needs time in order to heal.