Though I have no known relations who died during the Holocaust, I have always felt connected to each of the 6 million lives that were senselessly taken during that time, in addition to having a responsibility to never let the world forget. This feeling of obligation kicked in when, as a young girl, I was presented with a documentary on the subject.
As a young woman living in New York City, I volunteered with film director Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, to interview survivors. The experience enabled me to hear testimonies first-hand, from survivors living in various parts of New York. It was then I learned about the heart-wrenching horror they were exposed to in Eastern Europe. Some of their stories were extremely painful and it make me grateful to see that they had gone on to have rewarding lives and careers, giving birth to children who would be sure to let the world never forget what happened to them.
At the end of last year, I had a work opportunity to travel to Eastern Europe and was able to extend the trip so that I could visit places of Jewish suffering during World War II. It was an educational trip but also one I hoped would lead to inspiration on how to channel my continuing interest in the Holocaust. Together with my mother, we visited ghettos, concentration camps and synagogues and stood in the footsteps of the six million Jews who once lived in these places. I left my own two children behind in America but as I traveled to the camps, I brought the lens of motherhood to everything I saw.
Our feelings of gloom persisted as we traveled through the ghettos of Budapest, Prague and Vienna, Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps, and ultimately Dachau. Each was deeply impactful, but I want to tell you about Auschwitz most of all.
At Auschwitz, thousands died in gas chambers. Walking through the bunker where people were placed in solitary confinement, forced to endure medical experiments, hung, or ordered to commit suicide was beyond description. Many people chose death and touched the electrical fence to avoid their inevitable fate. I stood inside the waiting room where people were told they would get a shower. I knew most of them believed it. I witnessed the crematorium that consumed multiple bodies at a time. It’s a terrible weight all these years later, knowing that it really wasn’t that long ago.
As a human being, it was a harrowing experience, one that I will never forget. As a mother, it was especially heart-wrenching. In my mind I saw shadows of mothers and children dying together or being separated, never to find each other again. I heard their young screams and cries. I pictured children lying helplessly in the barracks, yearning to be with their parents. I saw them in line-ups outside the barracks being told to be silent for hours at at time, or else they would meet an early death. I felt their fear as they stood in gas chambers. I pictured their small, limp bodies thrown into the ovens, so calculatedly organized by the Nazis.
My tears were their tears. I was reminded once again that we can #NeverForget.
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On January 27 each year, the United Nations (UN) remembers the Holocaust that affected many people of Jewish origin during World War II. This day is called the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. It also commemorates when the Soviet troops liberated the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland on January 27, 1945. Find out more about this day here. 2017’s Holocaust Observance is inspired by the theme “Holocaust Remembrance: Educating for a Better Future“. UN Information Centres in over 40 countries will participate in #HolocaustRemembrance activities this year.
Lead image: Visitors watch a projection of place names and numbers of victims during a ceremony to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow January 27, 2013. ~ Reuters