Most Ashkenazim in Israel, like my husband, are descended from Holocaust survivors.
This Rosh Hashana, in synagogue, my husband's grandmother whispered stories to me that she hadn't told anyone else. That, after the war, she was excited to tell people she knew about being homeless, surviving labor camps, hiding -- "Nobody would have believed me!" she said, because she had been a spoiled child in an upper-class home-- only to find that there was nobody left to tell.
That once, she was caught by the Polish police and sentenced to be shot. While she was waiting for them to kill her, she noticed that she had holes in her socks, so she started to patch them. The police gave her their socks to darn as well. Eventually, they "looked away" and allowed her to escape-- "It's hard to kill someone who smiles," she says, crediting her survival to her friendliness.
That she had felt helpless as a young mother soon after the war because she had not known parents since her early teens.
She and my husband's grandfather (also the only survivor of his family) finally obtained visas to move to Israel ten years after the war. Israel is a land built by children without parents, teenagers who had just escaped death and were confronted with a new climate, a new language, and a new chance at life. My husband's parents grew up in a generation with few grandparents, uncles, or aunts.
The scars of the Holocaust never really heal: my husband's grandparents listen to the news on the radio every hour, just in case. They never throw anything away. They worry about my husband not wearing a rain jacket in the fall. They don't acknowledge tragedy, and yet they expect it every day.
The other day it struck me that my husband's grandmother is almost the exact age that Anne Frank would have been had she survived-- Anne Frank could be one of those little old ladies in the grocery store, struggling through English or Hebrew in a thick German accent, ushered around by a Filipini helper.
Tonight starts observance of Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Tomorrow morning Israelis will all pause at 10 AM as a siren goes off-- cars will stop in the middle of the road, construction workers will stand at attention on rooftops, even pets will somehow seem to freeze as we remember, one minute out of our good lives.
I'll post a video of the siren as my message tomorrow.