My family is split in two.
Pretty evenly, in fact… at least according to the DNA reports. Although, my grandfather takes great pride in the 0.3% more Eastern European that I am than North African/Middle Eastern.
So, my family is split. We are Hungarian and Czech and we are Yemenite.
We are split into those who went through the Holocaust.
And those who did not.
We are split into those who saw its horrors, grew up as answers to those horrors, begged to know more about the resilience in the face of those horrors.
And those who did not.
We come from a line of survivors. A line of those who knew yellow stars, ghettos, number-tattooed-arms, and gas chambers.
And a line of those who did not.
I hadn’t really thought about that split growing up because the Holocaust is part of our national narrative. As Jews, we collectively remember.
But we also collectively remember the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and other events that happened in the (distant) past and not necessarily to our immediate community. And our relationship to those events are different.
So, does that mean “those who did not” don’t sense the same pain on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, as those whose families did? Does it feel different when you don’t have a grandparent or great-grandparent with Holocaust experiences to recount (or not, because recounting is too painful)?
You see, the half of my family “who did not,” did in fact experience persecution and underwent struggles on the basis of their Jewish identity. It’s just that their memories haven’t (yet) made it into our collective narrative. Nonetheless, they are brought in to remember the Holocaust as part of the Jewish story.
Even if we are split into those who experienced and those who did not, the Holocaust has become part of our national memory. Through this, as one nation, we try to connect a split past.
Still, maybe the day itself takes on different meaning when first-hand accounts are not those of your relatives. I, (un)fortunately, don’t know.
But the varying meaning can only be in how we remember. We must unite when we think about the responsibility that comes with collective memory. However we remember, we must understand, digest, and ultimately react. Our approach to the world and our desire for a better future should be guided by this collective memory.
You see, I remember because it is (half) my family’s story. I remember, because it is part of my national story. And I react because looking ahead, I don’t want it to be part of anyone else’s story.
My family is split but I will work so that our future will not be.