It was the first month of my graduate degree in Holocaust studies. In between reading tons of pages about the German army conquering Europe and understanding the consequences of this development for Jews around the continent, I found myself sitting with a fellow student on the couch in my apartment preparing for an upcoming class. We were tasked with a project about the German killing squads [Einsatzgruppen] and their activities in the East, with a focus on their internal structure and methods in shooting Jews en masse. The more we learned, the more we encountered gruesome descriptions. Barely making it to the end of the required reading, I turned my head to my colleague, who had been silent all along. She had stopped reading a long time ago and was staring at the text, unable to comprehend its content. “I cannot continue like this. This is what my grandfather had to live through. This is the history of my family.”
It was the end of the first semester. I was sitting with my friends for a well-deserved glass of wine and discussing holiday plans. “Let’s go to Poland,” I suggested, adding that Krakow, where I used to live, is magical during the summer. “That sounds amazing,”,someone answered, asking what the best way of traveling around Poland would be. I said that trains would be the easiest way to reach most of the destinations. “Train?! In Poland?! I am not going to do that… Not after what happened to my family when they were taken by trains 80 years ago to the camps.”
It was sometime in the middle of the degree. I was overwhelmed and had to share my feelings about what I was experiencing. An old friend from childhood called and I couldn’t hold myself back. I told her about what I was reading. About the classes. About the conversations I was having with others. I told her how the past we learned about every day was not just history printed on the pages of a never-ending book. History was alive and living, constantly making itself visible in the lives of people around me. For momentary glimpses, people who seemingly had never experienced the horrors themselves, born long after the war in places far away from the Nazi terror, relating to the events as though it had happened to them. To them – through their ancestors. It was new and fascinating and shocking, something I have never reflected on. To my surprise though, my friend was of another opinion. “Who would even listen to that?” Not only did she express it was absurd that someone who had never been through the trauma could relate to it so strongly, but she went on to express her fierce determination that it was all exaggerated and all made up.
On my journey to understand these three encounters with friends, I felt the urge to not only expand my knowledge but also to share my findings with a wider audience. What are the echoes of the past in the present? How does the Holocaust experience of survivors reflect itself in the lives of their children and grandchildren? Is there a difference between the generations and how they react to this difficult past, or is it something that continues from generation to generation? I could not calm my thoughts- was it was all made up? Had I had witnessed it myself? How can the Holocaust keep affecting peoples’ lives long after the last bullet was fired? And how does it relate to the offspring of the survivors who did not live through this dark period of history?
These questions inspired me to interview a number of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and invite them to share how they reflect on their experience of being raised in families with this background. These conversations grew into a podcast, where three generations presented their thoughts about the role of the Holocaust in their lives. By adding testimonies of the survivors (recorded back in the 1990s) and putting them together with these recent interviews, I sought to get answers from all three of them. A survivor. A child. A grandchild. Each with their own identity and their own story, yet one past in common.
To tune in to the conversation about Holocaust echoes, I invite whoever shares my curiosity to listen to the podcast “The Holocaust: Three generations”. Available from 27th January 2022 on all digital platforms.