January 27, 2020
Holocaust Remembrance Day
“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life.”
– Deuteronomy 4:9, JPS 1917 Tanach
What frame of reference, perspective, or starting point is there, if any, to even begin writing a brief set of thoughts of my own, concerning the Shoah? Up until recently, there had not been a personal connection, except for the fact that I am Jewish. Yet, while doing genealogical research this past summer, I learned that at least eight relatives on my father’s side were murdered in the Shoah. Seven in their hometown of Bolechov, Poland. The eighth died in Siberia.
While many are familiar with Auchwitz, a less known means of the attempted extermination of the Jewish people in Europe, was the rounding up of Jews in small towns occupied by Germany, and their subsequent murder after being led into the woods, where now only the silence of mass graves speak. This was the case for seven confirmed relatives, according to records at Yad Vashem. The eighth, Moses, died in Siberia, in 1939, somehow after falling into disfavor with the Red Army, who occupied Bolechov before Germany.
Yet, the same Red Army liberated Auchwitz 75 years ago today; a moment in time, wherein the greatest significance is revealed in each extant personal testimony of survivor’s immediate impressions upon learning of their freedom. Whether left behind in the camps, or abandoned by their captors on the long death marches, as the German army fled the approaching front line of the Red Army, that first realization that the nightmare was over has been recorded throughout holocaust literature.
Unfortunately, the rise of antisemitism haunts Europe and America even today. For myself, I have become even more keenly aware of my heritage with every antisemitic act in the States and elsewhere. Having learned about family members who perished in the Shoah, my connection to my family roots has only grown stronger, especially to those on my father’s side who lived in Bolechov, Poland. Carrying on the same traditions of my ancestors can even be viewed as a way of honoring the dead.