Auschwitz was the first word I learned that had real meaning. I didn’t learn this word at age 13 or even 16. I learned about Auschwitz and it’s true meaning around 9 years old, probably even before then because of the fascination I had with my grandfather’s tattoo.
I was brought up on stories of war. Stories about the DP camp where my mother was born and the magnitude of what the holocaust did to our family was never lost.
Stories about my grandparents working themselves up from nothing, building their lives out of ashes.
Stories of my great grandfather surviving till the last minute just to die because he traded his food for a cigarette.
Stories of my grandfather, on the death march from Auschwitz, going through every horror imagineable, since he was one of the first to enter those gates of hell and one of the last to leave.
Visits to my grandmother’s cousin, who was experimented on by the infamous Dr. Mengele, always brought more stories…She would hold my hand and ask if she can adopt me because she could never have children after what that monster did to her. I would just smile and hug her.
While my friends went to Broadway shows and Disney movies, I sat with my grandfather watching Opera or these dancing Russian horses from the Soviet Army he always loved. Zayde would say there was nothing like European culture but even more, nothing like the Russians and the Allies who saved him.
While people were excited for the holiday’s, my family always held on with a bit of dread. My grandfather would usually seclude himself for a while or break down in tears out of no where when a memory was triggered.
While my friends went to Disney and other places, my family traveled to Israel, where I heard more stories about how Israel is vital to the Jewish people. My grandfather would run through the streets shaking all the soldiers hands and saying “they didn’t get us, we have guns now!”.
One thing that is potent in my mind, was when I met the wife of a true hero. I was young when I met my grandmother’s close friend, her husband had passed by the time we met. I remember clearly sitting with this woman in the lobby of a hotel she owned in Tel Aviv listening to stories about how her husband walked from Europe to Israel, making underground deals along the way, amassing weapons that helped Israel win the war of independence.
These are just a few of the stories…only thing is they are not just “stories”. They are my reality and so many others. These are the “stories” I will pass on to my children, especially when I see that they are tired from being threatened and targeted because we are Jews.
I will tell them stories of our people’s strength and survival, the stories I was told. The stories that make me thankful for our land.