Never Forget

Today is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day to take time and recall the atrocities of the past so that it does not repeat itself.

To be honest, I don’t think I can ever forget, growing up with grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. But I look to my son who doesn’t quite grasp the horror that occurred, and wonder if he’ll connect with it in the same way I did.

G&E

My grandfather (who passed away a few years ago) and my son. I’m glad he was able to meet him and spend a few years together.

Growing up, I just knew. It was hard not to when your grandfather had numbers inked into his skin and you were a curious kid who asked too many questions.

My grandfather’s family was rounded up from his hometown of Schaulen, Lithuania. His parents, brothers and sisters all taken to concentration camps. There he wasn’t known as Feiwa Sal, but rather #85705. He was shuttled between a handful of camps, unknown horrors occurring at each one before finally being liberated from Dachau. 
Dachau Document
He was able to locate most of his family that he knew didn’t die, except for his two youngest brothers. To this day, nobody is sure whether they perished in the Holocaust or somehow made it out safely to an unknown fate…

photo-4

 

B&GAfter he was liberated, he met my Bubby Esther in a displaced person’s camp in Germany. Her story of survival is its own unique one – one I hope to record someday soon. She lived underground in bunkers in the woods and in barns of righteous gentiles who hid her family. She doesn’t have numbers inked into her skin, but her memories are etched in her forever. How does one forget?

photo-3

I grew up with these stories hardly talked about but still known. When I eventually learned about the Holocaust in school, I needed to know more, craved more information, but found that my grandparents didn’t want to talk about it all that much… understandable.

But we had documents, like pictures, and release papers and more, like this note my mother wrote in hopes of securing money to cover my grandfather’s medical care. She wrote this note for her parents when she was in high school.

So, I read all I could. But I needed, wanted to know more. When I was a senior in high school, I decided to take part in the March of the Living – a 2 week trip to Poland and Israel.

In 1998 I joined many other teens and adults as we traveled to Poland, taking in the country and the history.

We walked the reverse path, from the death camp of Auschwitz – which claimed 1.1 million lives – to the work camp of Birkenau, reversing the path of so many Jews before us.

The gates of Auschwitz. "Arbeit Macht Frei" Work sets you free

The gates of Auschwitz. “Arbeit Macht Frei” Work Sets You Free

 

photo 4-4

The local Polish people would watch as if we were some sort of macabre parade. I wondered what they were thinking...

The local Polish people would watch as if we were some sort of macabre parade. I wondered what they were thinking…

 

We also visited a number of other former concentration camps. I can’t forget Treblinka. There’s no actual camp still remaining there. Just some memorials that were created. But the grass. It was the greenest grass I had ever seen in my life. Somebody pointed out that it looked so alive because it was fertilized with the dead.

Then there was Majdanek. This camp was on the outskirts of Lublin. When I say outskirts, I mean it was jutted up right against the city.

Majdanek barracks with the city in the background.

Majdanek barracks with the city in the background.

 

We learned that the people of Lublin would complain… they would complain that the laundry the put out to dry would get dirty from the soot the wind carried over from the camp. The soot caused by burning bodies. Did they know? What could they have done?

Shoes. So many shoes. Why did they keep them?

We walked through the gas chambers of Majdanek barefoot. I can’t remember why we were barefoot so many years later. Out of a sense of respect for those who walked before us, perhaps?

photo 1-4

 

The thing about Majdanek is that since it was captured nearly intact, it’s just a few switches of electricity from being back up and full running. That terrifies me. It is also an in-your-face reminder that we should never forget.

I haven’t shared any of these pictures with my son yet. He has a vague idea of the Holocaust – in the way a 7-year-old can understand. As he gets older I’ll fill in the gaps and explain how our family factors in to this story. Like how his great-grandparents lived the stories he reads about in school. As he grows older, he won’t have the same ability as I did to ask questions of those who were there. Thankfully, many survivors are getting their stories down – recorded for posterity, so that we never forget.

 

*All historical pictures via my uncle Jack Sal and his book Re/Place. All other pictures are mine.

 

 

9 thoughts on “Never Forget

  1. If liking this post is appropriate, I am not sure, but please accept my thanks for writing. It IS up to us to digest and reflect and pass this history on. I honor your curiosity and care. And that letter from your mother is a book. Right there. xo Suzi

    • More than appropriate. Thank you so much, Suzi. And yes, many plans (not enough time, sigh!) to get some of this family history written down.

      On Mon, Apr 28, 2014 at 12:53 PM, The Mamafesto wrote:

      >

  2. Pingback: Mädchenmannschaft » Blog Archive » Ein “menschlicher Zoo” in Norwegen, Erinnern an den Holocaust und queere Kunst in Armenien – kurz verlinkt

  3. Pingback: when your grandfather had numbers inked into his skin | fuckermothers

  4. Everytime i read about this there is shame. Not only about the atrocities we comitted, about the fact that my granny was a part of it(bdm, ” because everyone did”) but most about the long silence, inability to feel compassion long after the liberation/destruction of nazigermany.
    About the split-off, the lazyness of imagining oneself as sheeple, lead by the bad nazis(and not as a part of a horrendous massmurder-machinery, a happy, complicit part, a part which then would benefit greatly from the murder and destruction of people, jews, romani, gay and lesbian people, communists, some priests and from the nazis as asozial(antisocial) labeled people, from the swing-jouth to prostitutes..
    Shame about the greed, egoism and silence, inability to accept, to see what antisemitism, what hate, dehumanization and fear does to a society and its smaller, often vulnerable groups.
    The inability to see it now. “Never again” became a proverb but i fear that most people may say it, but dont act.

  5. I went to Germany the summer of 2000, between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. We spent three weeks there and visited Dachau. It was a very solemn and humbling experience — to step foot where so many did not step out. It is something every person should do in their lifetime. Thank you for sharing a part of your family’s story.

  6. Thank you for your article.

    Like Lethe I also just know the other part of the story with my grand dad having been a parachuter during WWII. I always find it interesting to read stories from survivors and their families, especially since I would never dare to ask them myself.

    I remember sitting in a train from London to Edinburgh during my year abroad in university and in Newcastle a young man in what I would call traditional Jewish clothing (kippa, the prayer belt etc) joined the train and I was SO afraid that he might start a conversation with me and ask me where I am from. Hm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s