One morning this week, I met my father at the plaza in front of Yad Vashem.
I hadn’t been there in many years, but I had some research to do for a project that I was working on, and I couldn’t find the information I needed anywhere else. He also hadn’t been there recently, not since some years ago, when he worked as the CEO of the American Society for Yad Vashem. It was long overdue for both of us to come back.
There were already some tourist groups and soldiers gathering at the entrance to the museum. It is the week of Yom HaShoah, of course, so I wasn’t surprised that the area was buzzing with energy. We made our way down the stone corridor away from the noise and toward the archives and library, through the shaded archways and next to the overlook of the city. Jerusalem was blazing hot and bright, but we stepped into the cool reading room and settled ourselves in front of the books and computers.
We spent the next few hours deep in research, tracing the journeys of family members who lived extraordinary lives that were then brutally cut short in Auschwitz. Over the last few months, I have been ruminating over their experiences, many stories I had heard my whole life from my survivor grandparents, and new stories that I discovered by digging into the past.
For some reason, this year I could imagine their feelings more intensely, wondering what it was like to live in Prague during the invasion of the Nazis, the losses of all that was taken away from them. The losses of all who were taken from them. They had been living there for 400 years.
At one point in my research, I found an enormous book dedicated to the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz, and my father and I simply shook our heads in disbelief.
I find that the older I get, the more painful it is to imagine. My own life is (thankfully) such a stark contrast. Yet somehow, I feel as though I identify with my lost family more deeply and more soundly than I ever have before. This year, I read the stories of my family who perished in the Shoah with more outrage and distress than ever; I related to the fear they must have felt more than I ever had before, yet somehow it felt even more outrageous and impossible.
When my first level of research was complete, my father and I sat in front of the Yad Vashem names database and typed in the names that we could remember of people who came before us. Name after name came up on the screen — names from stories we had heard. Towns and cities that had played host to our family for generations, obliterated. Names that were too close to our own, followed by the label: MURDERED. Sometimes there was a picture. Other times a testimony. Mostly, just a record of death.
There wasn’t much to say. We just kept typing, entering name after name.
But there we were, a father and daughter, sitting in Jerusalem, remembering those who had been murdered because they were Jews. Keeping the memories of our family alive. Which surely speaks the volumes we couldn’t.