One of my closest friends and neighbors, a mother of 6, is the youngest of 4 daughters of Holocaust survivors. Her parents and a sister live in Israel and the other 2 sisters, who live in the US, came here with their families so they could all spend Pesach together. I heard a van pull up to the house on Saturday night and realized that the Americans were leaving, so I went over to say goodbye since we've also become quite friendly over the years.
It was a tearful scene, sisters, cousins and aunts clinging to each other, promising that they would see one another soon- maybe a wedding (there is some serious dating going on), maybe during the summer. I stood at the side with Siggy Weiser, the patriarch of this little clan, a wonderful, kind man whose greatest joy is to see his offspring- 4 children, 17 grandchildren, 4 great-grandchildren, poo, poo, poo- together. As we watched the partings he told me of his last days in Buchenwald. Of the Death March at the end, when the Germans realized the war was lost, where almost all the 80,000 forced to walk and walk and walk didn't survive. Of him and 5000 other Jews left in the camp with 15,000 prisoners of other nationalities. Of watching representatives of other countries coming to take their people home after the war. And of the dawning realization that no one was coming for the Jews. And that home was no more, and neither was his family.
He ended up in France, hoping for a visa to Palestine, where the Jews were proud and strong. (In those days, before the Big Lie was disseminated, Palestinian meant Jew.) There were only 200 distributed and he was not on the list, so he went to the States. He couldn't return to Satmar. He met Shirley, who had miraculously survived Auschwitz although left for dead in a pile of bodies. She had no one left at all. Together, he told me, they hoped to at least have someone. And so they began anew.
A survivor is so much more than someone who physically made it. That was only the beginning. It's someone who didn't give up hope and love of life. Who despite destitution and loss and grief and memories of horrors that most of us in our worst nightmares could not conjure up, chose life. Not anger and revenge, not suicide bombings for sure or the path of hatred, but the tremendous will to rebuild a home and a life. To help mankind in any way possible. And to recreate our independent country, so that this will never happen again.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. 6 million stories that we will not hear and 6 million contributions to mankind that we will not receive; it's just unfathomable that this happened, the older I get the less I comprehend. But we will not forget. We still mourn the destruction of our Temple 2000 later; we will not forget what happened in Europe 65 years ago.
As for Marilyn, nee Weiser, and her extended- what a beautiful word- family. I can laugh with her when she packs a sandwich for her young son when they go to the store (you never know when the Nazis may come) because she inherited the strength and optimism her survivor parents have. I can cry with her when I see her older son in his IDF uniform, a paramedic in an elite unit of the Jewish army, a miracle her father cannot believe he lived to see. May the survivors, who already went through hell on earth, and all of Am Yisrael know only peace in the future.
But barring that, may we have the wisdom to act, along with protection from on High, to ensure that no one ever, ever tries to destroy the Jewish people again.
Am Yisrael Chai. Despite it all, the Jewish Nation lives on. How privileged I am to be one, and to be home in Judea. For good.