Growing up, I was unique among my peers, the child of a Holocaust survivor. For most of my friends and classmates, it was grandparents or distant cousins who provided any direct family connection to the Nazi Genocide. But my dad, who passed away last year, was indeed a survivor. It’s hard to even commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) without him. Last year, my first time at Yom HaShoah without him, was surreal.
Yes, because he was gone. But also, it was my first in Ohio. And the first time I attended the Governor’s Annual Holocaust Commemoration.
My father’s story lacks the drama of the escape from occupied Europe that saved Danish Jewry, or even the horrific, daily soul-crushing persecution in the camps and ghettos that Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi, among others, have chronicled so movingly. He did not keep a diary like another child in hiding, Anne Frank.
But it is his story, told to his children and grandchildren with a heavy heart and a somber sense of responsibility to history. It is filled with deadly mistakes, near misses, and miracles. It is also the story of an incredibly resolute woman (my grandmother) who saved her youngest child from the Nazi killing machine and their collaborators. It is the story of loving family that paid a hefty sum in 1947 to rescue and resettle them here in America, and of teachers, relatives, and community members who helped them rebuild a shattered life.
To a young child, that seemed a terrible burden to carry. Each year, even as I dutifully went with my father to Yom HaShoah programs and commemoration events in local synagogues, I felt the weight of six million silenced souls.
But now, when Yom HaShoah approaches, my feelings have flipped. I now feel, as he did, this burden in a wholly different way. I’m moved desperately by the need to ensure that all the stories of survivors – and sadly, those who did not survive – are told. It’s also so critical that the stories of Allied liberators be remembered as well as the (too few) clandestine efforts by diplomats, resistance fighters, and religious leaders to save Europe’s Jews.
We are lucky that today is a time when Holocaust survivors and their heroic liberators still live. Yet, somehow, there are once again places Jewish lives and Jewish institutions are not safe. Again, there are nation-states led by diabolical men who threaten to destroy the entire Jewish people.
“Never Again” has become yet again.
It is important that these stories be told. Equally, as important, our elected officials and leaders must stand and hear these stories as well as showing they have learned the lessons. Those, like French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who says if Jews flee the republic “[I]t is not France. The French Republic will be judged a failure.”
That’s a long way from pre-war and wartime Europe – and the United States – that refused Jews any sanctuary.
Education alone, and public statements alone, are never enough. But they are a foundation to build upon.
Personally, I must build on what my father did. He told his story obligated to history. It was a burden to him, and it remains a burden to me, but one I take on proudly. Because we are not only obligated to history, but also to destiny.
It is why events like the Governor’s, held each year at the Ohio Holocaust & Liberators Memorial, are so important.
The one-of-a-kind memorial, situated on the statehouse grounds is itself a statement.
The presence of so many in our state’s leadership each year is another.
We must never allow the historical facts of the Nazi’s Final Solution to be forgotten. And we must do our best to see that everyone today can live free of fear of persecution.
Having our state’s elected leaders – almost none of whom are Jewish – lead a yearly commemoration like this here in the heartland is a good start.