A Walk in my Grandmother's Footsteps
By Bianca Rosen Siegel
Tampa, FL


 

I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

– Helen Keller

 

My grandmother, Bronislawa Rozencwajg, was born in 1922 in Lodz, Poland. She enjoyed a normal childhood. Her parents owned a store below their apartment building, which also had a courtyard to play in behind the building. This pleasant situation ceased when the Nazis took over in 1939 and turned her life upside down. Grandma and hundreds of thousands of others were forced to work slave labor for Hitler in the nearby monstrously sized factories. From there she was deported to Auschwitz where they marked her for immediate extermination. The Nazis did not even want to waste the ink for an identification tattoo on her arm.

Somehow, my grandmother survived the atrocities of Auschwitz, even though all of the rest of her family along with 1.6 million others did not (“The Nizkor Project”). Toward the end of the war she was transported to Birkenau on a death march where she was later liberated.

In April, her story came to life as I visited the Lodz ghetto during a recent trip to Poland. As I walked in my grandmother’s footsteps, I saw where she lived and where her life changed forever when the Nazis took over. I felt her presence through the walls of the concrete hallways of her house and the little store on the first floor that she spoke of in her stories. I walked into the factory where she worked for Hitler that has now been turned into a bright and cheerful mall, and I cried at the cemetery where she carried my great grandmother’s body to after she died of starvation and typhoid fever in the ghetto. When I was younger and she read her stories to me they all seemed incomprehensible and far fetched but now the reality of her life and her stories appeared clearly in front of me. During my time in Poland, as I continued to see the world through her eyes, I could not stop thinking, this must never happen again.

Unfortunately, today my fellow man is again committing unspeakable crimes against humanity. In Darfur, Sudan over 450,000 innocent people have been brutally murdered and more than two million people have been displaced for no logical reason ("Darfur Action Campaign"). These horrors have persisted since 2003 and the world continues to turn a blind eye. Sixty two years ago the world closed their eyes while 11 million innocent people were exterminated due to prejudices and discrimination. I refuse to stand idly by and watch this genocide continue. It is my responsibility not only as a third generation Holocaust survivor, but as a human being, to stand up for those in Darfur who have become victim to exactly what my family became victim to during the Holocaust; prejudice, hate, and discrimination.

Last year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I spearheaded an effort to raise the awareness level of the teens in our area regarding the Darfur genocide. Through statistics about Darfur, photos from the affected region, and discussion about what we as teens could do to help stop this genocide, I helped raise the teen’s consciousness regarding this tragic event. Additionally, we discussed how we as students could lead the way within our schools to spread the word by doing something as simple as wearing a save Darfur wristband, a save Darfur t-shirt, and writing a postcard to President Bush expressing our concern regarding the Darfur genocide and requesting his immediate action.

When planning this program I knew that as one teen I could only do so much. I could spread awareness to my own group of peers, and do small things such as write an article for the school newspaper, but, by getting a larger group of peers together, educating them, and giving them all the tools to be proactive in their own circles, I would be planting the seeds for an even larger group to become aware of the genocide and would make an infinitely bigger difference than what I was effecting on my own.
One year later, there’s evidence that my grassroots campaign paid off. I have seen many of the 50 teens that came to this event proudly wearing their Darfur wristbands and t-shirts, and using their knowledge and awareness from that program to spread the word to their schools and communities. This one program that was a mere two hours long has had longer lasting effects than I would have ever imagined and had a ripple effect to not only the teen’s lives that were there but to teens all across our community.

Through knowing my grandmother and her stories, I have made it part of my life’s mission to focus on spreading awareness about all genocides, both current and past. It is clear to me that the only way to stop history from repeating itself is through knowledge and awareness. As a student, I have found many things I can do to raise awareness that have nothing to do with age or experience, but passion and dedication to a cause.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day this year I retraced the same death march from Auschwitz to Birkenau that my grandmother marched 62 years ago. While I marched along with 8,000 teens from around the world, I felt my grandmother’s spirit of optimism and survival in each step. Seeing thousands of teenagers leaving the gates of Auschwitz brought tears to my eyes. We were there to prove that Hitler’s final solution was never successful. This march is now called the March of the Living for we are there as living tributes to all those who perished.

Within my lifetime there will be no survivors of the Holocaust left which means there will be no first witness accounts of the horrors that occurred. It is clear to me that it is my generation’s duty and responsibility to inform and educate the next generation about the Holocaust. I know I can spread awareness to my generation as well as the next, and in order to do that I must make an effort to listen and read every survivor story I can, and absorb as much knowledge as I can before the last survivor is silenced.

If the genocide in Darfur continues, there will be no survivors at all to tell their story. This is the first genocide of the 21st century and I am leading the way in my community to make it the last genocide. My grandmother’s voice was silenced when I was only ten but I will continue her story for years to come, and ultimately I can only hope that retelling her tragic story will help combat prejudices and discriminations in our world, and maybe one day the senseless killing will cease.

 

Works Cited


"Civic Values." Being An American. 27 Apr 2007
<http://www.beinganamerican.org/citizenship.html>.
"Darfur Action Campaign." American Jewish World Service. 29 Apr 2007
<http://www.ajws.org/index.cfm?section_id=2&sub_section_id=2>.
"How many people died at Auschwitz?" The Nizkor Project. 27 Apr 2007
<http://www.nizkor.org/faqs/auschwitz/auschwitz-faq-09.html>.

 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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