Every day is Holocaust Remembrance Day for me, I don’t need a special day, but this year was different. The Holocaust is the formative event of my life, even though it happened before I was born. The sadness and loss in my parents’ lives was a constant companion, the missing people, their brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, a void they tried to fill with their new family, my brother and I, and friends with similar stories of survival.
But today I adopted the remembrance of my aunts and uncles, my great grandmother and her sister in a way I had never done before. My parents could never do for me what I craved, paint a portrait of their families, their lives before the war, in a way that could fill in the emptiness of no family that pained me as a child. The few anecdotes they told me during the last years of their lives were hardly enough to satiate me, fill in that gap. But today I wrote down their names, the years of their birth and tried to imagine them, as I did in Majdanek, where my mothers’ family perished, perhaps, and in Warsaw, where my father’s family remained. Now that my parents are gone I have to carry on remembering, carry the torch of remembrance.
Today I was affected more than I had ever been before by the weight of not knowing them. There are no photos of my uncle, who was 16 when the war broke out, and my mother’s two younger sisters, thirteen and ten. And none of her mother, father, or grandmother. She managed to run away to the Soviet Union, unable to convince her family to accompany her and her friends to what proved to be a haven, despite severe winters and the construction work in Siberia.
My mother was also on the Exodus, and this July marks 70 years since that pivotal event of Jewish heroism and chutzpah, and British folly. Although it turned the tide of public opinion in favor of the creation of a Jewish state, for my mother, it was a bitter disappointment she never got over, for me it was the ultimate act of heartless cruelty: denying entry into mandate Palestine to 4,500 broken survivors of Hitler’s genocidal rampage.
Today I honor her and her determination, and my father, who managed to not only find the way to safety in the Soviet Union, but also to bring about twenty people along with him, not his family, though, as in my mother’s case. But even more than that, despite all the loss, disappointment, they picked themselves up, made a new life in America, had a family, friends, a modest but successful business, and enjoyed life. They chose life and gave me life. My parents are my heroes and I am forever grateful to them. I will carry on their legacy and tell their story.