“Today, all over the world, Jews are remembering. Today, all over the world, it is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. Today we continue to feel it and connect to it. Today our stories are heard. Today, and every year on this same day, Jews all over the world, whether connected through family, or connected through solidarity, do what Jews do very well—recollect our history.”
– Rabbi Jonathan Aaron.
I am a first generation American. I grew up with a grandmother who had a thick
German accent. I always wondered why our family was so small, why I had only a
couple of distant relatives: the brothers who owned a bakery in New Jersey, the
professor on Long Island. My 90 year old Tanta Enshtina who spoke no English and
lived in a four bedroom flat way up on the West Side of Manhattan, with her son
Herbert and his wife Thea, who was twice his size–all with very thick accents (they
never had children, and my mother claimed it was because she slept in the center of
their bed when she first came to the United States as an 8 year old). Tanta was on
the kindertransport, being taken away to a concentration camp with her sister. They
made it to the back of the train, where they were both going to jump to freedom.
Tanta jumped, her sister hesitated, and was shot on the spot. She lived to 100 years
I don’t remember how many times in my life I heard that story. I am not even sure if
I remember the story correctly. Tanta Enshtina died many years ago, and Herbert
and Thea are gone as well. Along with stories about family members who lost
everything as they left Germany in a hurry. Others never made it out of Europe, their
names relegated to lists on a wall, their family lines blotted out by the death camps
of the Nazis.
My story is not a unique one. So many in my generation have grown up with a
parent or other close relative who was a survivor, or who’s family was displaced and
found their way to America. Over the years, I have had the honor to participate in
memorial services for men and women whose bravery, tenacity, and sheer will
allowed them to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, come to America, raise a
family, build a business, and live a life of freedom as a Jew. I have only respect and
love and gratitude for the generation who lived through the H
olocaust. And I know, by the time my children are grown with children of their own, this generation will have gone. “Never Again” is the phrase that has reverberated in Jewish
communities for over 75 years. According to the Pew report that came out almost a decade ago, the Holocaust was the number one connection that Jews had to their people. Will that still be the case when they are no longer among us? Will we continue to feel inside of us the deep connection to those whose lives were lost merely because they were Jews? Will we make sure that our children have these stories as a part of their heritage? Will we do our best to ensure that it never happens again?
Today, all over the world, Jews are remembering. Today, all over the world, it is
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.
Today we continue to feel it and connect to it.
Today our stories are heard. Today, and every year on this same day, Jews all over the world, whether connected through family, or connected through solidarity, do
what Jews do very well–recollect our history. I am optimistic that we will continue
to remember the generation of our people, six million strong, who lost their lives. I
am hopeful that our children, and theirs after them, will continue to remember. If
not, then a whole generation of Jews will be like the butterfly found in the poem written by Pavel Friedmann, at Theresienstadt concentration camp on 4 June 1942.
On September 29, 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz where he died.
– Rabbi JOnathan Aaron.
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished
to kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here.