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.