On this day, April 19, 1943

Ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto
http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/warsaw_ghetto_testimonies/ruins.asp

In 1943 this day Waffen SS attacks Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto.

My family lived in France and I learned the history of the Warsaw Ghetto first hand from survivors I met as an adult. None of them are alive anymore, but they passed their memories to me, and for me to remember what happened and how it happened.

Why it happened is another question that I still am asking.

Sometimes, it feels it happened because the younger generations forget or don’t care about what is outside of their immediate preoccupations.

These images are in black and white.

Don’t they look alike images we see every day still? somewhere in the world?

Why should we not remember lest we repeat history?

We, Jews, may be annoying you with our constant remembrance of the Holocaust: denying that it happened is not only painful and offensive, but it is also criminal because it allows the world to become cruel, cynical and self-destroying.

Stories of the resistance are beautiful and inspiring. They are poignant and useful.

Remember. Share. Resist. Grow. Love.

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From Generation to Generation

Auschwitz_2013I knew that sending my son away for a defining journey accross the world was going to be emotional: I was prepared. I was very proud that he had chosen to undertake the pilgrimage to his roots, and to travel through Central Europe prior to his first visit to the Land of Israel. This program, called “NFTY-Israel L’Dor V’Dor”, from generation to generation, is designed to introduce the teens to their heritage, most of them being descendants of Jews coming from this area, Czekoslovakia, Ukraina, Lithuania, Poland… Many of them, too, having heard of the many family members who perished in the Nazi atrocities that took place on the very land they were going to visit seventy years later.

They are discovering how rich the Jewish life was prior to be decimated. The remnants are powerful, and no one can measure on paper how much emotion they carry. Because human life is stronger than just a story, it has a soul and a way to attach itself into symbols, and into the passing of these symbols into the very same rituals that we observe today: you go far away from home, and some of the things you see, names, places, signs, are strangely familiar and known.

Retzei
Passage from the prayer R’tzei – mural from the preserved hidden synagogue in Terezin

The teens went to visit the camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau. They grew. They understood something that has no words to describe the experience. Each of them is going to process differently and make what they felt their own in their own way. Some took pictures, some wrote poems and shared, some kept silent and will talk about it later, some will never say anything about it, but still, they are transformed by the experience anyways and they are grown from it, like having received sprinkles of a spiritual shower that has been particularly attached to that place, so that the seeds of life that were planted there for the wrong reasons – hatred, fear, prejudice – grew into love, support, understanding: life.

DSCF0951-L

This generation of teens is the very last one who will be able to hear the stories from those who were their age at the time: what they lived, what they did, and how they remember it and what happened to them since. Next generations will only hear from those who were told the stories, and decided to pass them on.

But, we Jews, have done that for centuries. We know how to pass stories that stay alive. I am thankful for my community, for my Jewish family to allow this adventure to go on for the better, for life. Whenever something difficult is ahead, we know we can face it and transform it into hope and growth.

To quote one of the groups’chaperones, Rosanne Selfon, “Forever changed, but forever Jewish”.

Those Teens were traveling with NFTY in Israel – an organization providing Summer Israel experiences for teens.

SAM_forever-be
Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning for humanity

A family history

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Friday, June 7, 2013 – Prompt:

Tell us a story from your family history.

Wow. This prompt is leaving me with a blank.
I am not so good at choosing when the choice is too wide.
I chose to follow the prompts for that reason. The topic of “Roots” felt wide and vague enough for me to need the framework and the prompts seem to better offer that framework.

But then telling a story from my family history feels like going back to the ocean of the general topic of “Roots”. What story? Each day is a story, each person is a story. My mother wrote a book about her story, my father, upon my request, did so too, not a real book in his case, because he is a reluctant writer, so he chose to gather facts and piled them in a sort of chronology of how he went through his years before he got married for instance.

Then my mother also prepared fabulous photo albums after she retired. It is very time-consuming, so I am eternally grateful to her that she did so, and every time I visit – which is unfortunately only every other year – I enjoy going to those heavy books of pictures that she organized following some themes that are meaningful to her only in the beginning, but that I am ready to adopt to embrace her memories of her life, especially fascinating that I am in the stories of course! And that my recollections are tainted with another set of memories, or emotions, and that shows how we perceive events or reality through our own prisms always!

These are wonderful stories, sometimes painful stories too, that I participated in for the last parts at least (fifty-five years and counting!). The stories that took place before my birth have another flavor. I grew more fond of learning them as I am getting older: because I am more busy with my memories than when I was busy with my dreams and hopes. Because I have lost so many of the wonderful people who were building the possibilities in these stories also. Because I know better the value of the instant that I have let go so often, without paying enough attention to the story that was underlying and that was meaningful when it was unfolding.

Also, because I know how life can take it all in a split second: and what if no one was left to retell this or that story? I am a very anxious person, and my anxiety is growing with passing years, instead of subsiding into a more serene state of mind. I thought that working on building up memories that can last an eternity was a way to overcome the panic and the feeling that I could suddenly lose things forever.

I have come to believe that my profound anxiety stems in my history. There has been a lot of abusive events, enough to prove that I would be scarred and scared. I remember what a psychiatrist whom I had been in therapy with when I was younger had suggested to me, that being the daughter of holocaust survivor had certainly an impact on my psyche. Research has documented this since (see the footnote).

The thing with Jews, is that if you go back into their history, there is very likely a short period between succeeding traumas. The generations that lived before the Holocaust (or Shoah, as I prefer to call it – but that is another story – ) had gone through pogroms, or displacement, or if you go back again a quarter century, you’ll find persecutions, antisemitism, and destruction again, and again, enough to traumatize one generation over an other. This is one way of looking at the story. And then, there is the other way of looking at it: which is the incredible resilience, the everlasting rebuilding upon ashes that these families, mine, have accomplished in the face of these destructions and evil events. Yes, sometimes, I find a branch that goes dry, that is coming to a tragic end, but very often, another member of the same family has done differently and gone to recreate a burgeoning tribe. Also, some of the members who have been cut off from their roots, for different reasons probably, and lost their belonging to the Jewish family, often surprisingly resurrect their Judaism many years later and seem to go ‘back home’.

This is certainly the story that I would choose preferably to tell. How I feel profoundly and inherently part of a family, a very special family that goes back so far in time that I can’t exactly know when or where it really started. It gives me strength and solace, it gives me support and hope. It certainly depends on my belief system and faith, but even when I doubt and feel like I do not believe that much, it seems to have a way to catch me back, as if I was attached with a rubber band that is not drying.

I know that the best stories are stories with a happy ending. But when you talk about a family history what could be the ending? It is a never-ending story! It certainly is not a fairy tale, when we live happily ever after, after the events that took place dramatically in the tale, because there is so much unknown to what a family can become, but I am proud to be part of it, as little as my role could be in its unfolding, and as humble my words can be in their attempt to leave a trace in the sand for all to know about what we did and how we did it.

Footnote: Links in English on Trauma experienced by Holocaust survivors and their children

See my other posts of the series:

A sweet name

Genealogy and Family Trees

Three generations away

Generations

Random facts about my Judaism