It always hurt. It still does and most likely always will. There’s a void, a gap, in my lineage that I try to desperately fill. Whether it is in making new friends, creating a community of people who feel like family, or even just doing research on a people who were once so alive and vibrant.
The void, of course, will never be filled. No matter what I try I will never know exactly who I am or where it is I come from. There is a direct cut, a gash, in my identity. I have no one to look back on and to ask what is my history?
Who were you and what was your life like? Is the person I am today making you proud?
Since there is no one to ask, I go within myself sometimes and basically make believe I am connecting with my ancestors. I ask them questions.
How do you want to be remembered? What stories do I pass on? Do I remember you daily or once a year on Holocaust Remembrance Day? Please, tell me. Guide me. Not only me, yet also all of the generations to come.
All of the collective tragedy of the millions slaughtered could not have been in vain. How do we ensure it was not in vain?
All of the survivors I have spoken with respond with the same answer. “Just don’t forget us.” Tell our stories. Remind people of the importance of tolerance and kindness.
The responses are filled with fear. There is an uncertainty as to how the stories and the lessons of the Holocaust will be passed on when the survivors are no longer here to tell their stories first hand.
I’m a 3rd generation descendant of survivors from Poland. My grandmother was the sole survivor of her family and my grandfather and his brother were the two survivors of their family. They were both very, very young.
Two years ago, on Yom HaShoah, my grandmother died. It felt very ironic and symbolic. It seemed as if she made peace with her past and with the world, and then abruptly, she left it.
I loved my grandmother. It is in her honor that I speak about the Holocaust in schools, conferences, and religious organizations. It is in her honor that I lead an upstanding life trying to impart kindness on all those that I meet. It is in the honor of all those that left the world in a way too harsh to think about, that I am a proud Jew. A Jew who is tolerant of all those different from her, yet always, always, concerned for the continuance and safety of the Jewish population.
I feel responsible for carrying on my ancestor’s legacy and stories, yet many other 3rd generations I have met question whether it is a responsibility they need to carry. In my opinion, it is our responsibility. If not us, then who? That is part of the reason I completed my life dream of writing a book for future generations for Holocaust and character education called 3rd Generation and Beyond. We must teach our children to be humanitarians and to know that they are important enough that in a time of chaos, they as individuals are important enough to stand up and do something.
How do we Never Forget? We remember in our everyday decisions. We teach our children how to be responsible for one another. We take pride in our Judaism. We actively become practicing Jews, even if that simply means lighting a candle on Shabbat. We connect with our ancestors in this way.
We connect with them through the traditions of our people that have carried us through thousands of years of tremendous ups and tremendous downs and will continue to carry us into our future.
May we always remember those who gave up so much in order for our heritage, our tradition, our faith to continue.
May we Never Forget.