Never Forget; Remember

This is a response to Why it’s Time for Jews to Get Over the Holocaust

My entire Father’s side of the family was in the Holocaust, my Grandmother Helen (z’l) included. She is the woman after whom I was named. She died just before I was born.

I know her story from the war by heart. I’ve read poems that she had written about the camps, heard an interview of her experience on tape, and so on. But I don’t know what her favorite subject in school was, who her best friend was, what her dreams were, or even if a world existed for her before the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.

It seems strange to me when over and over I am told to never forget, yet it seems to me that everyone around me is forgetting it all. The Nazis wanted Jewish life to disappear, and for most Jews around the world it did. Many overlook teaching the rich culture the Jews had in Poland pre-World War II. Isn’t that fulfilling their goal? When survivors come to speak, they are expected to spend 75% of their time telling the story of their survival in the ghettos and the camps. Everyone leaves the auditorium in tears. We should be crying, but not just because of the emotion in the story, but rather the fact that in a day most will forget the speaker’s name.

I think Holocaust education is extremely important, and so are survivors coming to speak, but young Jews should spend double the time learning about the culture that almost died rather than just how Nazis tried to kill it. In my Jewish day school, I have learned the names of the most horrible Nazis dozens of times, yet just this year I learned that bagels originated in Krakow, Poland (my grandmother’s hometown). It may seem silly to want to learn about bread in my classes, but it’s just as much our history as the Holocaust is. We can’t let the horrible overshadow the good. Being remembered simply as a victim is essentially the same as being just a number.

As Jews we can’t let the Holocaust be our definer. If we let the world picture Jews as a black and white photograph of stacked bodies, as opposed to a smiling group of Yeshiva goers ready for a tish, then the Nazis win.

I spent the first three months of this school year living abroad in Israel. During this time, we took a one-week trip to Poland to learn about Jewish life in Poland as well as the Holocaust. While at Auschwitz, one of my teachers, Reuven, brought his class to the remains of a gas chamber, where he told them about a letter that his wife had written him. In this letter, she tells Reuven that it will be extremely difficult to walk through the ghettos and death camps, but as he walks his class through the site of horrible atrocities, he should remember the life they have built together in Israel: their beautiful home, eight wonderful children, and his teaching job. Don’t dwell on death camps, but set out to build life camps. It’s all you can do to truly honor those six million lost. With that, the group sang Hatikvah, and journeyed further.

 I don’t think that my Grandmother would have wanted me to think about her only with reference to World War II. I think she would have wanted me to think of her as a grandmother. As a Jewish community, lets band together and practice what we preach. I am more then a number on an arm and much more then a death toll. Let’s try to remember what never forget really means.