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The Survivor

The Survivor

As a child of survivors, I am the pain, fear and atrocities, once removed.

by

I am known as "the second generation." As everyone knows, that means: a child of survivors of Hitler's concentration camps. Yes, I am the pain, fear and atrocities, once removed. My parents were both survivors of Auschwitz. They were not left with scars from their experiences in the war; they were left with open, gaping wounds that would not heal in their lifetimes. One cannot recover from losing five wonderful children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and to a lesser extent, from losing one's home, possessions, and means of livelihood.

I was born from those ashes, but of course, could never make up for this -- a pain that I couldn't even understand. My parents, who had been married to each other and were reunited after the war, had very different styles of reminiscing about it. My mother would tell me stories about the concentration camp, but tried to present it in a lighter vein. She told me how they would sleep ten in one bed, and when one person had to turn over, they all turned over. At some point, it began to sound like fun. My father never spoke about personal experiences -- rather, he talked about aktionen, military and work experiences.

My eyes frantically followed that Sefer Torah, in an effort to learn the names of my dead brothers and sisters.

They never spoke of their lost children. I don't remember how old I was when I became aware of their existence and subsequent deaths, but it was at a very young age. At some point, I found pictures of them, and from conversations overheard, I pieced together their story. This opened a world of speculation and fantasy that fed the imagination of a very lonely only child. I would dream over and over about how we would meet. I knew that I could never speak to my mother or father about them. Even their names were a mystery. Until one year, at Simchas Torah, I discovered that my parents had dedicated a Sefer Torah in their memory. Their names were embroidered on the mantle of that Sefer Torah. As the men danced around and around, my eyes frantically followed that Sefer Torah, in an effort to learn the names of my dead brothers and sisters.

As I became older, I learned that my parents had had twin boys, who had been taken to Mengele's camp for "experiments." A cousin told me that a friend of my father's had seen them alive at the end of the war, and that my parents searched for them for years all over the world. To this day, I harbor a faint hope that they will someday miraculously appear in my life.

THE STORY GOES ON AND ON

My childhood, as a child of survivors, was not a conventional one. "Second generation" implies that there will be more to follow, and for me the story goes on and on. As my children and, later on, my grandchildren filled my life, there was always the specter of children like these who were wrenched from their mothers' arms and slaughtered, only because they were Jewish. There is a sadness, born of my parents' sorrow and pain, that permeates and colors my life.

But there is another side to this story. My parents were survivors. They survived conditions and circumstances that few human beings could. They were sustained by their strong belief in God, and by a spirit that couldn't be squelched. When my mother died, at age 93, and my husband eulogized her, he used the verse from that week's Torah portion: "Vayidom Aharon -- and Aaron was silent." Aaron had no complaints to God about the loss of his children. My husband said that in all the years that he knew my mother, he never once heard anything emerge from her mouth that could, in the slightest way, be construed as a complaint about her terrible loss.

Such indomitable strength cannot go to waste, and my parents somehow bequeathed it to me. Lo and behold, they produced another survivor. Throughout my life, when faced by even the greatest adversity, I have always felt an inner wellspring of strength that never fails to amaze me and see me through. Surely, along with everything else, this is part of my legacy from my parents -- the survivors.

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Observer.

 

Published: August 14, 2004


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Visitor Comments: 28

(28) jgarbuz, May 22, 2014 10:45 PM

Same here. Born in '46 in Bavaria, raised in Brooklyn lived in Beersheba.

in a Bavarian DP camp. Mother saved by good Christians after her baby, and my grandmother, and her brothers all murdered. My mother was the strongest person ever, as well as beautiful. Only the strong could survive that. And her life in Brooklyn was no bed of roses either. My father was in Red Army from Leningrad to Berlin, after which he escaped and met my mother in the camps.

The holocaust seared me for life even though I was just a child. And I also lived in Israel for ten years. I am not shocked at anything except that Jews could be better to each other than they are. We should stop "repairing " or saving the world and start caring for and saving each other. How Jews treat Jews is the most important thing of all. Let the world "repair" itself. We Jews must repair ourselves.

(27) eva, July 13, 2010 3:01 AM

I too am a child of survivors, but they spoke often about their experiences. I often wished they had written it down, it would have made incredible books. They saw open miracles and held onto their faith in Hashem through living hell. My life has been colored by it, and not a day or an hour goes by that I don't think about it. There is always an underlying fear of it happening again, and I tremble for my children and grandchildren. I constantly pray that Hashem say enough, and bring an end to all suffering.

(26) levi lobl, September 18, 2008 8:03 AM

i am her son!

I would like to say that my mother`s strength is that ther is no such thing as 3 genraion in our family! let the sun shin over us all for ever!

(25) Anonymous, May 5, 2005 12:00 AM

I, too, am a child of Holocaust survivors. My parents spoke very little about the Holocaust to us; however, we knew that we had to bring them only nachas, not problems. My goal in life was (and still is) to make life easier for them and to be good. I must have always felt their pain even though they had a hard time articulating their feelings.

(24) Anonymous, February 23, 2005 12:00 AM

Now i understand?

Im in the 8th grade,I have always known about the holocaust, but never really understode what happened.But we have watched many movies in school such as Anne Frank, or Jacobs Lie, and I also watch Schinlers List.And each time that i watched one of these movies i just wanted to cry.I meen i just kept thinking,"what if that was me and my family?" And now that i truely understand what the holocaust really was, i just can not understand still, for the life of me why any human being would do such a thing.I meen millions of jewish citizens where killed,and for what?Well i just had to say that!

Bye

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