When the siren sounds in Israel on Yom HaShoah, I am respectful and stand quietly in my spot, along with the rest of our nation. But for me, as a third generation (3G) Holocaust survivor, every day is Yom HaShoah.
I never needed a particular day to remember what Hitler did to my family; my Grandmother, Sarah Chaper Kallus, was living proof of the atrocities of the Holocaust. It was Yom HaShoah every Rosh Hashanah, as I watched my Grandmother cry during the Unetaneh Tokef prayer. It was Yom HaShoah every Succoth, as we sat in our Sukkah with our family friends, including an Auschwitz survivor, and we listened to the stories of the horrors of Auschwitz. It was Yom HaShoah every Hanukkah, when I watched my Grandmother dip her swollen, arthritic fingers into a hot pan to flip the latkes. Her fingertips hard and calloused from the years as a slave laborer at the Hasak munitions factory in Poland, and later as a seamstress in New York’s garment district. It was Yom HaShoah every Passover, when we spent our Seder discussing not just how the Jews were led out of Egypt, but how my Grandmother was liberated from her concentration camp. It was Yom HaShoah before we walked to the front door to let in Elijah, when we said a special Yiddish prayer photocopied from an old Yiddish newspaper article, about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the martyrs of the Warsaw ghetto.
It was Yom HaShoah the winter I accompanied my Grandmother through treacherous and icy conditions to the local bakery, to buy loaves of bread to add to the collection already crowding her freezer. It was Yom HaShoah when she explained that, no matter what she has in her refrigerator or pantry, she could never be without bread. It was Yom HaShoah every week that my Grandmother bought a lottery ticket, hopeful that she would win the jackpot in order to have some yerusha (inheritance) money to leave to her Grandchildren. It was Yom HaShoah the moment I realized my Grandparents were poor, that Hitler had not only robbed them of their families, but of an education and an ability to support themselves beyond minimum wage.
It was Yom HaShoah the day I realized my passport was more important than my jewelry. It was Yom HaShoah the day my Grandmother told me about the new baby her first cousin dropped into the toilets at the concentration camp, a devastating decision that saved her cousin’s life. It was Yom HaShoah at every birthday, graduation, engagement and wedding, as my Grandmother beamed with happiness, watching her proof that Hitler did not win.
In years past, my personal Yom HaShoah commemoration always included a phone call to my Grandmother. I would call just to check in, to see how she was handling the day. Most of the time, she was planning on participating in our shul’s Yom HaShoah program. One year, she was even a featured speaker, which I regret that no one had the foresight to record. Sometimes, we would speak about her parents, her older brother and her younger sister, who were all murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka. We talked about how her little sister took piano lessons and was very talented, how she adored her older brother, who was active in the Jewish underground. We discussed what little memory she had of family holidays in Czestochowa, Poland, where she was born, and of her larger-than-life Father, a businessman who often traveled throughout Europe.
This year, there will be no phone call. My beloved Grandmother passed away four months ago, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, and one of the few remaining witnesses to Hitler’s genocide. This year, in addition to my grief of the loss of the strongest, most resilient and amazing woman I was privileged to call my Grandmother, I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility.
As a 3G, it is now my responsibility to not only combat the Holocaust deniers, but to educate the 4G about their heritage. A heritage that, in our home, includes the knowledge that every day is Yom HaShoah. Since every day, we remember that we are only here because my Grandmother survived, and we remember those in our family who did not.