Next Monday is Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Every year, the country’s two-minute standstill touches me anew. I can remember that, twenty years ago, I experienced the sirens for the first time and remained rooted to the spot on King George Street, hardly daring to breathe. Everything was silent around me. For two long minutes, all life comes to a halt. It was a hot day and I had goosebumps all over my body. Cars brake abruptly, drivers position themselves at the roadside, heads lowered, to commemorate the unfathomable. Passersby stop, as if an invisible hand had pressed the pause button. An entire country. Two whole minutes. Silence. Quiet. Goosebumps. Tears. Memories. Prayers. Grief. Loss. Never forget.
Silence as a defense mechanism
I experience this sensation every year anew. The siren often caught me by surprise, absorbed in my work or on the bicycle. In the blink of an eye, the images are in my head again. Everyone has their own images. Mine don’t derive from books or movies. It’s the story of my life, as the daughter of Shoah survivors. A photo of my mother at the age of fifteen in Dachau after the liberation by the US Army. Second generation. As close as it gets. Fragments of survivor stories that run through my veins. The silence at home. The survivors’ defense mechanism of not talking to their own children about the past. And yet the Shoah was omnipresent. In the voids, echoing what wasn’t said.
My father was a highly-gifted speaker. Without any preparation, he came up with brilliant speeches which he gave to countless people, just like that. He was driven by his vision of a more humane world. When he would come home from his public appearances late at night, only to get up again after four hours sleep for another round of educational work at schools, universities, parliaments, churches, party conventions or on talk shows, there was no strength left to talk. Then, it was quiet. Like on Shoah Remembrance Day. Only without sirens.
March of the Living on bloody ground
For me, the turning point occurred in 1988. Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Poland was still communist then. Without giving it too much thought, I travelled with a Jewish delegation on a bus from Frankfurt to Poland. It was the first March of the Living. We, the descendants, the survivors, tracing the past, the murdered. Poland appeared to me as one huge Jewish cemetery. Bloody ground.
We marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau in the freezing cold. It was ghastly and changed my life. I think, right there and then, I made the decision in my heart to emigrate to Tel Aviv. I enviously watched the Israeli youth delegation with their blue and white flags and the Star of David. They flew from Warsaw back to Tel Aviv, I flew back to Frankfurt. How I would’ve loved to exchange places.
In three years, my eldest son, Ben, will embark on that journey. Joining the March of the Living as a Tel Aviv high school student. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, holding in his hand the Israeli flag.
featured image: thenigo.com
translation: Catherine Bradshaw