“The world that was”

From 'The World That Was' exhibit at Yad Vashem
From 'The World That Was' exhibit at Yad Vashem

The Shoah was always a part of my life. Even though my parents, who lived in Poland, ran away from the Germans as soon as Germany invaded Poland and spent the war in the Soviet Union and Siberia, the great majority of their families was murdered.

The Shoah was the background music in my childhood. Not only in my family, but also in the families of most of our acquaintances.

One childhood memory that I have is that during the prayer of Yizkor in the synagogue, when you remember the names of your dead relatives, and the children leave the synagogue, I remember that we had a lot of time to play. The prayer lasted a long time.

Years later, when I needed to say this prayer myself, I saw that the prayer is really very short! That it doesn’t take more than two minutes! And then I realized that the reason the prayer took so long in my childhood synagogue is because it was after the Shoah, and each person in the synagogue had a long list of relatives for whom they would say Yizkor…

When I saw an ad that Yad Vashem was opening a guiding course for this national museum of the Shoah, I immediately applied, and I recently finished the course of 6 months. Now, besides doing therapy with adults, I am also a certified guide of Yad Vashem.

And I want to tell you something about the museum.

The first display when you enter the museum is a film called “The World that Was,” a collage of films from before World War II, from before the Shoah, projected onto a large triangular screen. The idea is that before we talk about the deaths, about the murders, about the extermination industry, about the mountains of shoes and hair from the murdered people… we need to remember the world that existed before. Not only corpses and gas and crematoria… a whole world existed that was destroyed. Not only 6 million murdered… countless communities, cities, villages, families, lives…

And this world from before, this world that was destroyed, is a mysterious world for me.

For the people who went through the War, the traumas were so great that they practically erased whatever existed before. It seems like their lives began with the War.

I tell my children stories about my childhood. How I fared in school, what I liked to study and what I didn’t like, what games I played, who were my friends, what I ate…

But about my parents’ childhood I know almost nothing… It seemed like their lives began in 1939, when Germany invaded and started bombing their city of Cracow…

And I miss this world from before, this world that I never knew… This world with grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins; a world of pictures in black and white with parties and tragedies, with fights and loves, with dreams and disappointments…

A full world, with full lives, just like ours, that disappeared from reality.

And I don’t want it to disappear also from memory.

About the Author
David Wolf writes about his experience of being a second-time husband and father. He has a daughter from his first marriage, and, with his second wife, has accrued three daughters, two sons-in-law, one grandchild and twin 8-year-old sons. He is a social worker in a mental health department and in private practice in Raanana.
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