Today I was truly humbled by an ulpan classmate of mine. She isn’t a typical ulpanist – young, noisy, partying every night, struggling to keep her eyes open in class.
Her name is Eva and she turned 95 a couple of weeks ago. She already speaks 7 languages and is learning Hebrew with us. In itself, this is inspiring.
Today she shared with us the story of her time during the Holocaust. It wasn’t the details of the story that stuck with me so much as her attitude towards it.
Her daughter has heard her stories, over and over, the little details, the feelings, everything. But she still tells Eva that she doesn’t understand. She knows in the sense that she knows the facts but she doesn’t know how it felt.
So this got me thinking. I know that every year, on Holocaust Memorial Day or Yom Hashoah or any time that the Holocaust is discussed, we all use the phrase ‘Never forget’. But I’m not sure we know what that really means.
I remember that the Holocaust happened. That 6 million Jews were killed as well as gypies, homosexuals, political opponents etc. That Eichmann was the architect of the Holocaust. That some Jews were saved by gentiles who hid them in their homes. That there was resistance, whether by reading forbidding books, praying or physically uprising.
I’ve been to Poland – to Warsaw, to Aushwitz, to Mydanek, to Krakow.
I’ve listened to people’s experiences, looked at photographs, read stories, absorbed myself in museums and so yes, to some extent I am not forgetting.
But I don’t think that I or most other people know how to adequately ‘Never Forget’.
We are lucky and privileged and burdened with a responsibility. We are the generation that have heard the stories first hand, from the people that were there, that saw what happened. We have to make sure that the next generations understand. We have to find a way for them to not just know what has happened with facts but to feel what happened in the same way that we feel it when we hear the stories first hand and see the reactions of the people 60 years on.
At this years Lochmai Hageto’ot ceremony marking the end of Yom Ha’Shoa, as I watched Holocaust survivors walk on to the stage to light a torch, each to remember 1 million Jews who died, their fragility really hit me. They all walked proudly, strongly and with a sense of independence but the number still alive to tell their stories is sadly decreasing and as much as I want to keep them alive I can’t.
So the best that we can all do is to preserve their stories by telling them over and over to the next generation and to live our lives by the lessons we have learnt from people such as Eva.