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Holocaust, Personalized

In Family History, Life on February 16, 2009 at 9:23 pm

I read the book “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay and it awakened in me an intense desire to learn more, not only about the Holocaust, but about my Jewish Prague relatives who were victims of the Holocaust.

Several years ago, when my sister was working for the Red Cross, she did the research to find out their fates. When she moved to Europe I became the caretaker of the Red Cross papers, but I hadn’t really dug in to understand what they were, and what they meant.

We hear all the time about the 6 million Jews. Sometimes we even hear about the other 5 million made up of homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies, Catholics, Poles, disabled peoples and on and on and on. It’s mind boggling. How many is 6 million? How many is 11 million?  How can we even begin to imagine what it must have been like for any one of those people? Any one family taken?

And so I began my quest to understand. What was it like in Prague in the early 1940’s for Aunt Helena, my maternal grandfather’s aunt, and a widow from 1938, and her adult children Martha, Ottilie, Vilem, Pavel and Ervin? Did those distant cousins have children? What did they do for a living before they were reduced to laborers because they were Jews? What must it have been like to have been a family of means, slowly reduced to living in a ghetto with nothing? What must it have been like to pack a suitcase and be put on a truck or a train, not knowing where you would end up? I read about Terezin. I examined their transport cards and researched the death camps each one was sent to. Auschwitz. Treblinka. And others. Some of the cousins lived for years. Others for only months. Two don’t have final transports listed. Does this mean they survived? I have so many questions. I feel so compelled to try and understand the horror. Sometimes I have this strong feeling that at this moment, I amthe only person on the planet thinking of them. Of their names. Of the lives they were forced to give up. All for the “crime” of being born as Jews.

There are times in life when you can face horror. This was one of those times. I watched Nazi propaganda films, “Schindler’s List” and numerous documentaries. I read Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Art Speigelman’s wonderful graphic novel “Maus” along with several other memoirs. I poured over websites to learn more. The mug shots from Auschwitz will stay with me always, as well as the images of smokestacks. Suitcases. Bone-chilling cold. Starvation. I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like as a mother to have my children torn from me. To have to turn my back on a parent, a loved one, a friend, in order to ensure my survival. And how would a person return from that? How would it be possible to go on with life after surviving extreme horror?

I don’t know. What I do know is that it is my job to remember those relatives. It is my job to be sure my children remember. We all know much more about the Holocaust than we did before and hopefully we are better for it. Kauders (nee Neustadl) family, Bless You.

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