Valeria Chazin

Fourth Generation after the Holocaust: A Bridge to Memory

Babi Yar memorials. In 1976, a monument to the memory of all Soviets who were shot at Babi Yar was erected. In 1991, a Menorah shaped monument was erected commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first mass shooting of the Jews of Kiev. Credit:,

My grandfather Nahum was only a newborn when in 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. A few days shy of his second birthday, Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, brought the horrors of the war to Kiev where he lived. Many family members perished, murdered in Babi Yar, a massacre site outside of the city where 33,771 Jews were shot to death in just the first two days. Thankfully, my great-grandmother, Lia, saved her toddler son, escaping from the city and heading eastbound within the Soviet Union territory until the war ended.

This Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, my grandfather is speaking at the Israeli Knesset as a Holocaust survivor. He will be sharing his memories about the persistent hunger and the fear of the unknown he remembers as a child, and the way he still often thinks about the suffering his mother endured taking care of him and his brother in such unbearable conditions.

I was fortunate to grow up living next door to my great-grandmother Lia, and to hear as firsthand witness the pieces of stories she shared of living through the Holocaust as an adult. I carry with me the memories of our conversations, where she spoke about her father and brothers killed by the Nazis, about waiting for pieces of communication from her husband Isaac, a Jewish soldier in the Red-Army, and not having a home to return to at the conclusion of the war as it was ruined during a bombing of the city.

The man in the middle is Leonid Ostrovsky, a family relative who was captured as a prisoner of war and forced to take part in the burning of the bodies in Babi Yar as part of the Nazi’s attempt to conceal their atrocities. The three men were among the only few who were able to escape. This photo was taken by a journalist who requested to speak to eyewitnesses:

For Lia, and for other Holocaust survivors who were already adults during that time, I am the fourth generation. A lot of literature deals with the passed traumas, life experiences and memorial projects created by the second and third generation of survivors, but I could not find reference to the fourth. Yet, 85 years from the beginning of the Holocaust, we are not that far removed. Most importantly, we may carry very special responsibilities with us, serving as a bridge to memory between those who lived through the Holocaust to those who may never meet a Holocaust survivor in person.

Being the fourth generation, a major task we must complete is the recording of memory. I encourage those of us who have living relatives or neighbors to talk to them, try to encourage testimonies and stories, or collect memorabilia to safekeep or pass along to Holocaust museums before these get forever lost. Several years ago, I asked my grandfather to record our conversations on video, and we spent a few hours recording his account of the events to the best of his physical ability to remember and mental ability to share. Together with my community’s JCRC I visited two Holocaust survivors to record their testimonies as well. I wish I had also done this type of recording with my great-grandmother.

Additionally, an important responsibility we carry is to guard the accuracy of the Holocaust’s memory and its meaning to the Jewish people. By that I mean not just making sure individual stories are accurately told, but that the collective history of the Holocaust is not being skewed, downplayed, or misrepresented by social or pollical agendas trying to misuse the Holocaust to achieve ideological sympathy. Thus, it is on us to make sure the word Holocaust is not being stripped from its meaning.

As human history carries a risk of being rewritten, fighting the alarming rise in Holocaust denial and erasing its memory altogether is a duty we must fulfill. In the recent years, I’ve seen reports of European communities denying local involvement in committing atrocities. Currently in the US, recent polls show a major lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among young people, and more than half of the 50 states lack any laws mandating Holocaust education. We, the fourth generation, can advocate for such laws, or for making public any archives that still exist from that time.

On the community level, other things we can do include encouraging organizing Holocaust remembrance events, arranging visits to Holocaust museums, or making sure school libraries carry books about the Holocaust. Something I am thankful for is the opportunity to establish the Undenied project, a program through Students Supporting Israel (SSI) where hundreds of books about the Holocaust are being distributed annually to students across university campuses.

Another opportunity we, the fourth generation, have is to highlight the heroism of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Thinking back at the formal Holocaust education I received, it focused on the massive tragedy, the grief, the loss. It takes time for a nation to process genocide if this is possible at all. However, looking at my family’s story – my great-grandfather’s fighting against the Nazis, my great-grandmother’s strength and the pursuit of life, the rebuilding of their faith after grieving losses – is a story that needs to be told.

In recent years, I find more books like the one about the three Bielski Brothers who built a village in the forest, fought the Nazis and saved 1,200 Jews, published in the early 2000s. I hope Holocaust education will incorporate more such examples of Jewish strength, writers will highlight these stories, and museums will dedicate exhibits to the topic. Not in vain, the full name of the Israeli Yom HaShoah is “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day” as I agree that future generations need to know that not all Jews went “like sheep to the slaughter.”

As the fourth generation matures, we shall make sure that the passage of time does not erode the Holocaust from the flow of history and does not make us forget its lessons. Most importantly we, like the generations before us and the ones to come, need to do all that is in our power to live up to the promise of “Never Again.” As we witness the catastrophic rates at which antisemitism in its old and new form rises across the world, spreading at rapid speed, we must keep in mind this Yom HaShoah that Never Again is always Now for the Jewish people.

About the Author
Valeria Chazin is the co-founder and board of directors chair of Students Supporting Israel. She is a speaker on topics of Israel and Zionism, and an activist in the Jewish community.
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