I’m one of the lucky ones. When the count was published, 1,500,000 Jewish children had been murdered by the Nazis. I am among the youngest of the survivors.
My mother’s 18-year-old brother was a member of the Polish Partisans. He, along with my grandfather, was involved in dispersing counterfeit food stamps as well as smuggling Jews out of the ghetto and taking them into the mountains to be with the Polish Partisans. There, they would be trained to do covert work against the Nazis.
Filled with despair and terror, my parents had agreed to have me smuggled out of the Bedzin Ghetto. My parents had managed to barely avoid capture on two occasions. When they miraculously escaped a third time, they knew that as an infant, my only chance of survival was to get out of the ghetto.
A courageous Catholic family agreed to help and my loving parents entrusted me into my 18-year-old uncle’s hands. The arduous trip to the mountains and back had its toll on Uncle David. Remembering his promise to my parents, Uncle David returned late at night with the joyous news that I was safe. Exhausted from the trip, the decision was made that he would spend the night in their room. Tragically, that night was the start of the final liquidation of the ghetto. Uncle David was shot in the leg by a Nazi soldier while trying to escape and was taken to Auschwitz where he was gassed, and his body was cremated in the ovens.
The Holocaust isn’t simply an event from the past. Its horrors continue to tap away at survivors’ subconsciousness, even though so many years have passed. Memories for those who were old enough to have a memory, leak out when they start a family of their own, or when there are terrorist attacks such as those in Paris or when antisemitism rears its ugly head at a synagogue, such as the one in Pittsburgh.
Even in old age, survivors can’t escape the bad memories that break past failed attempts to forget. Like Eva Schloss, who is the stepsister of Anne Frank and is touring the US this week, many survivors believe they have a duty to tell their story so that future generations never forget. Often the survivors tell us that they wanted to survive because, if they hadn’t lived to tell what happened to them, no one would know about the atrocities done by human beings to each other.
There is also another side to the history of the Holocaust. It is that the power of the human will to persevere is incredible. We not only survived but we have thrived. In the worst of times, people reach out to each other, beyond their differences and have the courage to perform incredible deeds of kindness, despite the peril it might put them in.
Like Eva Schloss and her family who went into hiding with the help of people who cared, my parents and the Catholic family that saved my life couldn’t believe that the world had turned upside down and the atrocities that were being committed could possibly be done by people who loved and were loved.
I was born a Jew, raised as a Catholic the first years of my life, and then have lived as a Jew as an adult. I know that each faith teaches us about love, kindness and goodness. After all, my Catholic family risked their lives and the lives of their children to save me, a total stranger. Love and acceptance can’t go any deeper than that.
Eva Schloss who is speaking in Austin this week, is one of the oldest Auschwitz survivors that still travels the world to tell about her survival and about her family history. The message is that there is no room for hate. That love gives us courage to overcome the worst experiences. We, too, whatever we are going through, can rise above it. Each of us has the power to make a difference in someone’s life and lift them up through deeds of kindness and goodness.
Humanity has not learned from the Holocaust, as genocide continues in many parts of the world.Schloss’ message of love — not fear, hate or indifference — is what we must focus on. In Judaism, tikkun olam (acts of loving kindness) is required of us. We each must do everything we can to repair this world and make it a better place for this generation and those yet to come.
Lucy Taus Katz is a speaker and activist against genocide, owner of Katz Builders and member of Temple Beth Shalom. Doing Good Together is provided by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.