Last week, Israel observed Yom HaShoah, its Holocaust Remembrance Day. Writing at The Jerusalem Post, Fellowship Senior Vice President Yael Eckstein recalls hearing stories of the Holocaust from those who lived it, and speaks of our responsibility for this aging generation:
When I was young, Holocaust survivors seemed both larger than life and, somehow, perfectly ordinary. At seven years old, I thought the numbers tattooed on the arms of my friends’ grandparents were normal – after all, nearly all of them had them.
And hearing firsthand stories of the Holocaust was a regular occurrence. My grandfather told my sisters and me stories from when he was a boy, stories that were detailed and precise. The stories were so horrendous, that they were difficult to even believe. He didn’t sugarcoat or change the details of his childhood for the ears of his young listeners. He told it straight, as it had really happened – it had been difficult, agonizing, and traumatizing.
“My mother was nine months pregnant, separated from my father, crawling on her hands and knees through a field with bullets flying overhead,” he would tell me with a strong, yet shaking voice. “She had all four of her kids crawling behind her, so for two hours she called out our names and we would answer with a simple ‘here’ so that she knew we were still alive.”
Somehow, his stories provided comfort. The fact that he survived these atrocities and went on to marry and have a beautiful family told my sisters and me that the bad guys didn’t win – that evil never wins; that a great atrocity struck our people not too long ago, and, though it left scars we would never forget, it did not break our body or spirit.
I listened to my grandfather talk about his miraculous journey and survival during the Holocaust, and stored his words deep in my heart. At seven years old, I already realized what gems these memories were, and how lucky I was that he was sharing them with me…
There is no excuse for Holocaust survivors being left to fend for themselves in their final years, living the end of their lives in stress and sadness.
In a few too-short years, it is going to be completely up to us to educate the next generation on the atrocities of the Holocaust. We won’t have those who lived through this terrible chapter in history to tell their shattering stories. Our children will not see the tattoos on the arms of the survivors.
And, after we tell the heroic tales of the brave survivors we once knew, how will we answer our children when they ask us why, during the historic final decade that we had Holocaust survivors living among us, we allowed 30 percent of this precious population to live in poverty?
Now is the time to look in the mirror and realize that we’re all responsible for this atrocity of poverty among the last remaining Holocaust survivors.
Now is the time to act.