The Link Between Us
My father was surprised when my grandmother asked to see the film “Schindler’s List.” Her life prior to the Holocaust was a mystery, something never mentioned, but always lurking in the background. She said that reliving the past would only cause anguish. He had never heard her mention the names of her first husband, her daughter, parents or brother. She had no photographs or memorabilia, nothing from the past but agonizing memories.
“Schindler’s List” had a
profound effect on Grandma. It opened the door to dialogue. She said
that many of the events portrayed in the movie were very similar to her
own experiences. When she began to share her story, the lessons we had
learned from history books took on new meaning. As she described how the
numbers she was assigned in Auschwitz were branded on her arm, my
perception of the world changed forever. Her story inspired the passion
I have today to make certain that the history and lessons of the
Holocaust will always be remembered.
Grandma grew up in Lvov, which at that time was home to the third largest Jewish community in Poland. As many as two-hundred thousand people were executed there during the Nazi reign of terror. Labor camps were set up and sadistic guards used prisoners for target practice. David Kahane, a rabbi from Lvov, was hidden by an Orthodox priest. He later recorded a personal account of his experience. Grandma and her two-year old daughter Sylvia were transported from Lvov to the Auschwitz Labor Camp. Sylvia was brutally murdered and Grandma, overcome by grief and despair, felt that she had nothing left to live for. She traded a crust of bread for a cyanide pill feeling she could not endure anymore. She cried herself to sleep and said that her mother spoke to her in a dream, begging her not to give up. She took her mother’s advice.
In the novel Lost in
Translation, Eva Hoffman eloquently stated that, “the silence that comes
of inarticulateness is the inchoate, desperate silence of chaos. The
silence that comes afterwards is the fullness from which the truth of
our perceptions can crystallize.” Grandma broke the silence she had
lived with for so many years. The stories of the Holocaust survivors
themselves are the most poignant, powerful tools we have from which to
learn. Listening to them increases our own understanding of the level of
suffering the victims of hate crimes endure. They become more than just
statistics. Grandma’s story acted a catalyst to inspire others to read
and learn more about the Holocaust. I write about her often, which has
led to many discussions with my teachers, friends, and neighbors. They
are usually curious to hear her story. When they ask questions I tell
them that in order to really experience the impact of the Holocaust on
the survivors, to log onto the Shoah Foundation website and to read
books written by survivors like David Kahane or Elie Wiesel. Grandma
died not long afterwards. Although small in stature, she had a powerful
impact on everyone around her. Her legacy is one of wisdom, strength and
courage. She showed me the effect one person can have on the world.
It is equally disturbing that people in other parts of the world were aware that this was happening and chose not to take action, thereby allowing the slaughter to continue. Aaron Hass, clinical professor of Psychology at the UCLA school of medicine, and child of Holocaust survivors, stated that for many victims the question asked was not where was God? But where was man?
My mission is to make people aware of the connection between the Holocaust and what is happening in the world today. The Holocaust didn’t just happen. It was deliberately planned and executed. We have no assurance that mankind will not do its worst again. Recent genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur bring to mind that prejudice and discrimination still lead to persecution, incarceration and annihilation. For the past two years I’ve been a volunteer speaker at area high schools trying to help combat discrimination and prejudice through social awareness. We need to support lawmakers in favor of strong anti-hate crime legislation and thorough investigation into hate crimes. Federal funding to law enforcement agencies needs to be increased. Educational programs promoting the benefits of social and cultural diversity, combined with dignity and respect for all, should be mandatory in all schools from kindergarten through high school. Humiliation and degradation should never be tolerated.
I agree with the noted scholar Herman Spertus when he stated in the Holocaust Chronicles that “education leads to empathy which fosters tolerance and increases out capacity to love beyond our family.” Education combined with political and social activism and community involvement can change the world.
1. Hass, Aaron. In the
Shadow of the Holocaust. Cambridge, MA: University Press, 1990.
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