Remembering the Holocaust
“Every day and every night that I was in the concentration camp, all I could think about was my family. Were they safe? Were they hungry? Were they even alive?” This quote is said neither by a famous actor nor by a well-known author. This quote, rather, is from a hero of the Holocaust – a man who showed pure courage and valor under circumstances that are unimaginable. He is someone who represents the blessing of my existence and the reason to believe. This man, my hero, is my grandfather.
Leo Danziger, when he was 19-years old, entered a concentration camp in 1939. Earlier that year, after the successful invasion of Poland on September 1st, a memo concerning the intermediate and final goals – Endziel – was sent from Reinhard Heydrich – the head of Nazi Germany’s Security Police, to the chiefs of special task forces – those people in charge of Polish land controlled by Nazi Germany (The History Place). This letter did not specify a final goal, but rather spoke of “in-between” steps. It dictated that the Jews must be moved into cities – concentrated – in order to create portions of Poland that would be judenrein – cleansed of Jews (The Holocaust chronicle). My grandfather was one of “the chosen ones”, who was ripped away from his family and friends and placed in a concentration camp.
“I was taken away from all I ever knew. I was placed among strangers, torn away from those whom I loved, and constantly thought I would never see any of them again.” My grandfather had these thoughts in mind relentlessly, but knew in order to survive, he must keep them stored in a place in his mind only he could see. In order to survive, he needed to put up a front – a brick wall almost – and so inspire others not to give up. It is so important for this legacy – the lesson that we should never give up, regardless of how intolerable conditions in which we find ourselves – to be remembered and passed to each generation.
My grandfather lost every member of his family to the Holocaust – yet still lives today as the strongest man I know. The foundation of his strength is his deep love for his family. The irony of this is that he lost every member of his own immediate family, except for one sister, during the Holocaust.
In the midst of all this despair, though, he fell in love with my grandmother, only to be separated from her during the deportation of many Jews to transit camps, which were often the last stop before extermination for many Jews. On the last night before they were to be separated, my grandfather pointed to the Evening Star and told my grandmother, “Each night, at six o-clock, look up at the sky at that star and think of me.” For these two people, it did not matter that we were miles apart, facing death. All that mattered was that they connected with each other.
That connection is the foundation of survival – and an important lesson of the Holocaust. Millions of Jews were separated from their mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, and yet were inspired and motivated nonetheless by their families. That sense of family can have such great power. It can be the sole reason for survival. The importance of life comes down to those whom you love and care for.
The history of the Holocaust not only teaches us to cherish our families and loved ones, but it teaches us never to let history repeat itself. If only the whole world could hear this message – the message of “never forget, never again.” Earlier this year as my sister and I sold bracelets with this message across them, we hoped to inspire those around us to believe in a cause in which our family is so deeply rooted. We told stories of Holocaust survivors, and convinced others of the importance of the Holocaust and the lessons it can teach all of us.
Tragically, those lessons have yet to be learned in many parts of the world. Darfur is one of those areas, experiencing a modern-day genocide, much like the Holocaust. The definition of genocide – “the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group” – is just as relevant to so many regions today as it was sixty years ago in Germany. The genocides in Darfur, Cambodia, Turkey, Bosnia, Armenia and Tibet all repeat the evil that immediately comes to mind when we hear the word “Holocaust.” We all exclaim in awe and disgust how terrible the Holocaust was, but many of us sit and do nothing while many “holocausts” continue each and every day. The Holocaust was a terrible event in our history, but with each terrible event, we must learn many lessons. We can learn history lessons in the classroom, and we can learn many valuable life lessons from stories of survivors, but the fundamental question is, “What can we do about it?”
Our world today is full of prejudice, discrimination, and violence, and we, as students, as the future of this world, can do something about it. We can go beyond raising money in bake sales. We can spread awareness and ideas. The bracelets I sold had a message engraved in them – a message that I deeply hope will get through to others. Each time someone reads the message “Never forget. Never again,” I hope they remember the Holocaust and the devastation it caused for millions of people and so many countries. However, through that tragedy, I hope they also realize that they, as people of today’s world, must do whatever they can to stop current holocausts and prevent future ones.
The lessons of my grandparents, their lives and their perspectives, have always centered around the importance of family. They inspired me to take action, and through that action, although I know I can never take away the pain they experienced and still experience today, I believe that I can continue to make them proud of themselves and the fight they put up each and every day of their lives. I will always live my life with my grandfather’s words in mind, “You must cherish those you love and love as many as you can, for life is only lived once, and each and every day is as important as your last.”
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