We are a product of our history. It's why we tell our stories and share our experiences with others; because without doing so, we will surely be forgotten. But, when our history is so wretched, so painful, how can we utter it? Is there something to be said for someone else telling the tales of our history for us? Is it more effective because they are removed from the situation, and can shed light on a new perspective?
With Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, behind us I, like many others, have been caught in the large spectrum of emotions ranging from distraught to detached. On Yom HaShoah, I could not help but think that as a grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, my plight is different from that of my mother's, the daughter of the survivor. I am part of an emerging group. I am a third generation Holocaust survivor.
Now, you may ask me why the third generation is different from the second. My answer is, and will always remain, that the grandchildren of survivors have a different responsibility than their children. Many Holocaust survivors encountered such atrocity that after the war, they buried their pain in raising their children and working to build a new life. The Holocaust was not far back enough in history to come to terms with, making it difficult to tell their children about it without bitterness materializing. The third generation, the survivors' grandchildren, have such a clear desire to learn, to know, to share their grandparents' story with others. It is our sole responsibility to do so, especially because within the coming years, more survivors are passing in old age.
I am quite honored to have this responsibility bestowed upon me. Whereas some third generation survivors seem removed from the horrors that their grandparents endured, I believe that removal is exactly what makes the grandchildren so important. Of course I am angry about the Holocaust and the Nazi's occupations and persecutions of the innocent, but by the same token it is foreign to my experiences. On the other hand, my mother is closer to it -- she dealt with my grandmother absorbing her heartache in her artwork and refusing to speak of her Holocaust experience.
Years have passed, and of course the grief and suffering by Holocaust survivors has not faded, but maybe some of the bitterness has. As the world validates their resilience, survivors are becoming more aware of the importance of speaking up, freeing themselves of a sort of "culture of silence." The grandchildren stand in awe, not understanding how the world could turn the other cheek to such crimes against humanity, in shock that anyone could live through it. The third generation has been shaped into a sensitive and empathetic group of young people, caring about the world in ways that have not been seen before.
I asked my parents an important question the other day. I asked them to tell me my late grandmother's story. I know the story. I know it as well as I know my own personal stories. But, that is not the point. Us Jews, we like to repeat things because when you repeat, you have not even the slightest chance of forgetting. I told my parents that I want to hear her story every year on Yom HaShoah for as long as they are around to tell it to my sister, my brother, and me, just like we tell the story of Passover every year even though it is ingrained in our memories. And so when my parents are no longer here to tell it to me, I can make the promise (with all the confidence in my heart) that I will tell my children of their great-grandmother's tenacity and strength, unmatched by anyone I have ever had the honor of knowing.
So, survivors -- we are listening. We will not let the stories die. I make it a personal mission to ensure that the Holocaust does not become like the civil war section in a textbook with names we forget when we go home at the end of the day. Your memorials will not become like the statues of washed up historical figures that we pass in the parks and city centers but know little about. Elie Weisel once said, "Listen to the survivors... whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness." The third generation bears witness.