Growing up in Wichita, Kansas there were just a handful of Jews who’d been in the Nazi death camps. Therefore my father would be called upon from time-to-time to speak about his life in Hitler’s Germany. His stories seared my soul. So much so that at one point a close friend in Shilo asked me to speak on a local panel of second-generation Holocaust survivors. I had to refuse. Thankfully my father had escaped Europe in 1937. Technically I am not a second-generation Holocaust survivor and many of my neighbors are.
Once we left America and settled in Israel every single one of my children had playmates whose grandparents bore a blue number on their arms. I made friends whose parents had heroically rebuilt their lives from the ashes in Europe. As we grew older and began losing our mothers and fathers I would go to comfort the mourners and hear amazing tales of the Holocaust. I think they should all be published in books for I still am obsessed with the murder of the six million Jews.
Recently a visit to Yad Vashem was organized for the senior group in Shilo and I decided to join in. My neighbor, originally from France, had taken the intense course to qualify as a guide. I knew the Holocaust was very much a part of her identity. As we began the tour I looked around at rest of the group. Many were truly second-generation survivors. Some had parents who graduated Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Dachau. Others from forced labor camps. Some had been partisans in the forest. What was I? Where did I belong in the Museum? And why had I even come? I’d read so many of the books. Seen so many of the movies. What more could I possibly learn?
I’d under-estimated my neighbor, though. Yad Vashem is so vast that one needs at least thirty hours to do it justice. We had a little over two, but at every stop of the way she painted personal sketches that entered my heart not to be forgotten.
And then we arrived an exhibit of what she called a typical living room from Europe at that time. Many of you will probably see something that will remind you of an object from your grandparent’s home. One exclaimed over a desk. Another a bookcase. I saw a picture and was mesmerized.
No, it did not remind me of anything from my grandparent’s home. It was the exact copy, although in better condition, of the Mizrach, the marker of the eastern wall, that hung in my grandparent’s home, first in Jesberg, Germany and then in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Seven years ago, my Uncle Max, z’l, who inherited their home and its belongings, gave me the Mizrach* three months before he died. It now hangs proudly on my dining room wall as a witness of the survival of the Jewish people.
|The Mizrach at Yad Vashem|
|The Mizrach hanging in my living room|
I cannot explain why HaShem allowed my father and all his family to escape the inferno of Europe and not the families of so many of my friends. I cannot understand why some were allowed to survive and so many were not. All I know is what a lady on the Jerusalem bus once told me and my son when he was small. She was a warm, friendly woman, and eager to share some of her memories of the camps with us. She wasn’t dressed as an observant woman but her words proved to us that she was a believing one. Even at the worst times I knew that HaShem was with me there.**
Whether one’s a second-generation survivor or has absolutely no family connection to the Holocaust Yad Vashem is a place for every Jew. There’s so much we can learn from history. More important we can come to understand, like the woman on the bus, that Hashem is always with us, even at the worst times. Otherwise the Jewish people would have ceased to exist eons ago.
*For more see The Mizrach Has Come Home, December 23, 2012
** Excerpt from my article, Burned, December 29, 2014