Monday, November 9, 2015

The Case of the Unmentionable Holocaust

The first rule of the holocaust is, "Don't talk about the holocaust."

Many Jewish families who descend from people who made it safely out of Germany during the Nazi era can relate to that statement. Their grandparents and great grandparents didn't talk about the holocaust.

I have told my own story many times, and almost every time I am greeted with a similar story in return.  My great grandparents left Berlin very early, just after the Nazi's came to power. They first went to Switzerland to ride it out, and then moved to New York when it looked like it wasn't going to end soon.  They sponsored and helped many many friends and family to get out.  We were the lucky ones, and it was due to great grandmother's insight and insistence that saved so many of our ilk.

Well, that's the story I was told, and that story is true to a point.  What is left out of that story is that they left about 50% of their wealth behind, and lost a great deal of close friends and close family members.  Close family members, like sisters! My great grandfather lost three sisters. I never ever heard about this growing up. I found them on my own when I started building the family tree. And what's worse is that they were married, and had children.  All three were lost with their husbands, and one was lost with her two children.  Amazingly, three of the children survived.

These are my grandfather's aunts, uncles, and cousins.  And, not a word. In my research I found name after name after name. The Germans kept great records, and I have transport numbers, deportation dates, deaths. Everything. I now have a rather large list of my related holocaust martyrs, which is incredibly poignant and painful to read.

And, not only my grandfather... My grandmother too. This took a little longer to find, but there they are. Her list of relatives lost in the Shoah is just as long as my grandfather's, and includes her uncle James Simon, "the lost composer." You'd think they'd at least mention him. A famous and talented uncle? Nope, not at all. I never even knew he existed. 

Auschwitz concentration camp

Why didn't they talk about the horrors of losing family in the holocaust? I think there is a few reasons for this:
  1. It was too painful to think back and remember all the uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, assorted in-laws, and friends who didn't get out.
  2. They didn't think we were ready to hear stories about such atrocities and nightmare (you don't tell grandchildren horror stories), and by the time we were old enough they were gone.  
  3. Survivors guilt hitting them, as they made it out and many others didn't. 
  4. The dream of starting over, and letting the younger generation move forward unencumbered. 
  5. Denial. How could this happen to us. If we don't talk about it, maybe it will all go away. 
Please comment with your own reasons.

"We got out, we were the lucky ones," was all they said.

1 comment :

  1. Very true about not talking about the Holocaust. I had a childhood school friend whose parents were both survivors. Her mother was a classmate of Anne Frank's. She and her siblings were always very aware of their family's losses, but it wasn't really discussed with friends. I was unaware of her heritage until I looked for her online a few years ago and found her brother's website tribute to their parents, which told their stories. Emotions and losses were too raw, I think, in the 1950s and 1960s until perhaps the publishing of The Diary of Anne Frank.