Warning from history: As witnesses die, will the Holocaust be forgotten?
This was not a fun article to read, but I think it’s important—necessary even.
Sometimes almost nothing is known to tell the stories of lives that were not lived, except a name.
As Yishai Szekely - a doctor who serves as a reserve officer in an artillery unit - explains, in some families first-hand memories are passed down. There are photographs or books and ornaments with stories attached, that make the dead seem real.
Here, the reading of the names is the only way to reclaim the dead from the anonymity of genocide.
“Six million is such a huge number, even to think of 1,000 it confuses you,” Szekely says. “The power is in the name because we don’t have much left. That’s the only thing we can touch or understand or imagine, our only connection that we could start to make to our past… When you connect to one name, one person to one name, it makes it easier for you to understand.”
When the last name has been read, I stroll between the blockhouses with Yechiel Aleksander, who was brought to Auschwitz as a teenager in 1944, on one of the Eastern Transports - the trains that carried the Jews to the selection process between life and death.
He survived of course and went to Israel after the war.
Any period of history changes when there is no-one left alive who remembers it at first hand.This is his 35th trip back to Poland with Israeli delegations to deliver lectures about what life was like here and to answer questions when he can.
The first nine or 10 trips back here affected him very badly, he says. For a moment, switching between Hebrew and the fluent Polish he still remembers from childhood, he is lost for words. He describes how the visits depressed him, by holding his hand out straight and level and then suddenly bringing it down in a plunging, swooping motion.
He still comes, though. He believes that those who know what it was like here have a special responsibility towards those who do not. […]
Any period of history changes when there is no-one left alive who remembers it at first hand.
I can remember writing stories back in 1998 about the 80th anniversary of the end of World War I when you could still talk with men who’d fought on the Somme or at Jutland, and with the women who had nursed them.
Fifteen years on from that moment, they are all gone.
And who knows, perhaps 15 years from now all the Holocaust survivors will be gone too.
Yechiel Aleksander feels that those who endured these horrors have a special responsibility to talk about them.
When you meet him, you are reminded that the rest of us have a special responsibility to listen.
Before we left Israel for Poland I wanted to try to understand a little more about the role the survivors play in passing on the memory of the Holocaust.
I spent some time with Asher Aud, who lives with his wife in a homely apartment in a block of sheltered living units in the middle of Jerusalem.
His wife, Haya, likes to paint, and she loves her grandchildren. Those two passions have between them filled almost every available inch of hanging space with pictures and photographs.
Your eye is drawn though to a wooden panel that Haya made to mark her husband’s 70th birthday, on which scenes from his life are etched into the wood in brightly coloured inks.
One panel, decorated with rings and hearts, marks the day they married. Another records the births of each of their four children.
A third commemorates Asher Aud’s time in Auschwitz. […]