Every time a person increases their good deeds, they earn themselves a new name. There are three names by which a person is called: one which their parents call them, one which people call them, and one which they earn for themselves. The last is the best one of all (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Vayakhel).
There is a famous poem titled ‘Everyone has a name’ by the Israeli poet Zelda who was inspired by the Midrash quoted above. In the poem, Zelda recounts the different names people have: the names we receive from our parents, our neighbors, our stature, our enemies and strikingly, our death. This poem has become a Yom Hashoah classic, as we remember the names of those who perished in the Shoah, as well as those whose names are lost to history.
As I think about this poem and relate it to my own experience as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I realize that I only know my great grandparents who perished in the Shoah by two names. I know them only by their names “given by their parents” and their names “given by their death”.
I know their names “given by their parents” as these are the names of my parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Although, my great grandparents were murdered in the Shoah, their names never died. I cannot imagine the grief of my survivor grandparents when choosing to name their children after their own parents. The pain my grandmother would have felt every time she called my mother downstairs for dinner. The loss that would ache in my grandfather’s heart, every time his sons were called up for an Aliyah. It took courage and a sense of personal obligation to put their suffering aside, for the greater purpose of remembrance.
I know my great-grandparents though their names “given by their death”. I have read their Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem, submitted by my surviving relatives. I have been able to piece together fragments of their personalities and their lives, through snippets of stories and letters that were written while on the run from the Nazis. But all this, is colored by the Shoah, by their death. The Shoah robbed me of the opportunity to know my great grandparents outside of their identity as victims, apart from their name “given by death”.
I would like to use this opportunity to remember my great-grandparents, through their names. The only way I know how to remember them.
- מינדל בת אלטר יוסף – Mina Merel nee Feniger. She died in Camp de Rivesaltes in France. She was my great-grandmother. My mother, Minna is named after her.
- שמואל בן גרשון – Samuel Merel. He was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in August 1942. He was married to Mina and lived in Germany. He loved music and was a member of his town’s council. He was my great-grandfather. My uncle Greshon is named after Samuel’s father.
- פועה בת גדליה – Fani Freudenberger nee Jacobs. Prior to World War Two she lived in Germany. She was killed in Izbica, Poland. She was my great grandmother. My mother, who second name is Fanny is also named after her. I am named after her father, Gedalia.
- יואל בן נתנאל – Julius Freudenberger. He was Fani’s husband. He was on the “Lost Transport” which perished en route from Bergen-Belsen to Theresienstadt. They were buried in mass graves in Troebitz, April 1945. He was my great-grandfather. Julius was a decorated German soldier who served during World War 1. He was a tailor. My uncle and cousin are both named Joel, after himץ
- ישראל בן אריה – Israel Lederberger. He and his family lived in Krakow, Poland for hundreds of years before World War Two. He owned a corsetry and under garments business. All of his children survived the war. He died in the Bochnia Ghetto in Poland. My brother, Eliyahu Yisrael is named after him.
- פריוה – Priva Lederberger nee Mandelbaum . She was Israel’s wife. She died in the Bochnia Ghetto in Poland. My aunt, Pauline is named after her.
יהי זכרם ברוך
May their memory be blessed