Holocaust survivors who are still alive today often pass on their story to the next generation, but when Leonard Felson’s dad, a Holocaust survivor, stopped remembering his past after the onset of dementia, Felson tells us that he must continue to tell his dad’s story so others can hear:
Recalling stories he’d told me since childhood, I wondered if he’d remember other details, like the circumstances over how he was accepted into the partisans. Or how his friend David Eiges hid in a barrel of flour in a bakery, listening to the sound of machine guns as German soldiers rounded up his neighbors during the liquidation of the Glebokie ghetto in 1943—a story I first heard from David himself when I was just 13. Not long ago, my questions would have triggered an hour worth of storytelling. “Did I ever tell you about … ?” Inevitably, the answer, was, “Yeah, Dad.” But he’d go on, telling the story with full detail.
Now when I asked him for some of those same details, he replied simply, “I forget.”
Fortunately, my father has already recorded his personal history. The USC Shoah Foundation interviewed him about his life for several hours back in 1997. I transcribed those interviews, and they served as the basis of a memoir he commissioned another writer to compile. My uncle also published his own memoir before he died. And my father had a yizkor or memorial book on the destruction of Glebokie translated into English.
But as his memory fades, I’m losing a part of my dad, losing the fact that we no longer can rely on him for detailed stories or go to him to clarify questions. That’s more than sad. I’m grateful that he shared as much as he did, but I’m only now coming to terms with the reality that Dad no longer remembers his saga or can tell it—like a TV series you thought would always being there that finally goes off the air. That’s how dementia works, erasing its victims’ past. I credit him and my mom for instilling within my brothers and me the value of our family’s story. So, I also feel a responsibility to carry his story forward.