Herbert Brettl published a book titled “Nationalsozialismus im Burgenland” in 2012. There, on pages 174 and 175 is a chapter with the title Moses Krausz: Ein gedemütigter jüdischer Lehrer. A photo accompanies the brief chapter about a humiliated Jewish Teacher, showing my grandfather Moses holding my father on his lap, with his other two sons, Alex and Markus standing on either side of him. You see, my grandfather was the director and teacher of a one-room school in Burgenland, a province in Austria.
A few pages back, on page 155, there is a photo of my grandfather standing at the back of the class, and my father sitting in the front row, second from the right. The photo is from 1932. Soon thereafter, Moses would send his youngest son, my father, to study in Vienna, where his oldest son Markus was studying medicine. My father attended the Diefenbach Schule when the Nazi Gestapo prohibited any Jewish children to study in German and Austrian schools. While my father left for Palestine, his brothers, his sister Kornelia, and his parents left for Portugal. One of the very few European nations that allowed Jews to enter, Portugal became a safe haven for my grandparents and my aunt and uncles.
Sixteen others of my father’s family, his aunts and uncles, his grandparents and his cousins, did not fare so well. Sixteen women and men, related to me, were murdered by the Nazis during the holocaust. Lipot Krausz, my grandfather Moses’ brother, a bookkeeper, was the only Holocaust survivor who endured the death camps. I have a distinct memory of him, having met him as an infant in the early 1950’s. Most of the members of my family murdered by the Nazis were seamstresses. Some were farmers, teachers, professors and shopkeepers.
My father had prepared all of this information, and much more, for my son. He gave this gift to his grandson for his Bar Mitzvah celebration. A meticulous family history going back to the early 1800’s exists for my father’s side of the family.
I am sorry to say that I know a great deal less about my mother’s side of the family. I do know that she left Berlin on one of the last transports of children permitted to leave for Palestine in the late 1930’s, and that she ended up on Kibbutz Ginossar. Her father and stepmother tried to leave Germany for Palestine as well, but due to the British blockade they, along with thousands of other Jewish women and men trying to flee the murderous Nazis, were turned away. They sailed for Shanghai, China. They lived there for more than ten years, in part during the Japanese occupation of that part of China.
From what little information I could glean from my maternal grandfather, I know that his parents and siblings perished, murdered by the Nazis either in the death camps or on their way to them. Other than my mother, his only child from a prior marriage, Max Springer had a sister who had managed to leave prior to the Holocaust and lived in London. I later found out that he had a nephew who lived in Israel. Max never talked about his early life in Europe. My mother told me that he had lived in France and then in Germany, where he owned a shoe store in Berlin.
Holocaust Memorial Day is a very real and tangible event for me. I hear the sirens commanding us all to stop whatever we were doing. I hear them just like I heard them when I lived in Israel, sirens that went off at 11 in the morning, stopping traffic, work, studies and play.
I see the flame in the great hall of the eternal flame at Yad VaShem, a place I visited a day prior to every Miluim (reserve duty). I see myself a young inductee to Golani Brigade, taking the oath that דם יהודי לא הפקר (Jewish Blood Will Never Be Abandoned). NEVER AGAIN we said.
And so, as it is every year, we remember. We tell the stories and we recall our encounters with ignorance, anti-Semitism and blind hatred. We try to teach acceptance and diversity. We attend lectures when survivors still tell their stories. We allow ourselves to hope for a better world when we see Paper Clips, a movie about a small school in Tennessee and how they created a memorial and a study program that was simply amazing.
This year, seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, on Wednesday night, April 15th, and then again on Thursday April 16th, I will hear the sirens. I will stand at attention, and I will remember. NEVER AGAIN.