A generation without parents...

My husband's grandparents at our seder this year. At almost 90 years old, they're still smiling. His grandfather escaped the Holocaust by finding his way into service in the Russian army. (We sometimes call them "Shimon" and "Golda" because of their resemblance to two past Israeli PMs...)

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.

Never again.


  1. I'm a direct child of survivors. A "Second Gen."
    (SecGen? Hmmm. That sounds kind of 2.0-k.) I''m among the younger of that group of SecGenners.

    What you describe so poignantly affects me everyday, as an American-born son. I had one surviving grandparent and two Holocaust-survivor parents. I grew up with five siblings, and none of us is close. It's occurred to me quite recently that we as children must have presumed only one of us would survive, and so there was little productive or meaningful contact between us as we grew and developed. Living under one roof, we were isolated from each other. Today, there is little warmth between us. What is saddest about this really is that my very young children will not have as much contact with their cousins and extended family as I would like. I will endeavor to involve them with their cousins but it will not, unfortunately, be in the context of extended family gatherings and reunions. They will not know their aunts and uncles though they are American-born. I do feel that the next generation will be able to be resources to each other, if we can figure out a way as parents to keep them connected. In discussions with other SecGenners, this sense of isolation from siblings has revealed itself to be a common pattern. This, Maya, is the continuing, unfortunate legacy of the Holocaust.

  2. Vilmosz, I just saw your comment now. I agree with you that the Holocaust affects "Second Gen" survivors very much, too. In fact, I still see the scars in my Third Gen husband. Thank you for sharing your experiences.


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