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I Am A Survivor 

By: David Mandel  

On the second day of Pesach, a Sunday morning, April 9, 1944 the Hungarian police yemach shemam came for my grandfather, Reb Dovid Hersh, A"H. 

My mother's family lived in Fekete Ordo, a village of 200 families including 70 Jewish families, 30 km from Munkachevo, Czechoslovakia - which today is part of the Ukraine. 

My grandfather, Reb Dovid - my namesake, was the village shochet, dayan, and baal tefilah. He was considered the leader of this small community. The Nazi strategy was to first remove the leaders. 

Later that same evening on the second day of Pesach, my mother, her two sisters, and my grandmother Tzivia, A"H made a seder. I've often asked my mother how could she possibly have made a seder after what transpired that same morning with her father. My mother answers, "What else should we do -it was the second night of Pesach?" 

Where were we on the second night of Pesach several months ago? At home with family, in Florida, Israel? Vehigadita Lebincha Bayom Hahu, and you shall tell your children on that day. We all spoke of Yetzias Mitzrayim. How many of us related stories of the Shoah at our seder table? 

My grandfather returned home several days later. His beard had been cut off and the middle of his head had been shaved to humiliate him. On the last day of Pesach in Nisan 5704, 1944 my mother and her family were taken to a ghetto. 

It has become an all to easy refrain to say, we will never forget. But the real question is, will our grandchildren remember the Shoah? 

The purpose of this article in recounting the past is to teach the future. We, as children of survivors of the Shoah, bear a special responsibility to share and to present a picture for all children today. We all have a responsibility to remember because THEY want us to forget. Every year, in the period between Rosh Chodesh Sivan and Shavuous, tens of thousands of Jews of Hungarian and Czechoslovakian descent commemorate the yahrtzeit of their family members who perished in the Holocaust. This was the time in 1944 when these families entered Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen, and other concentration camps. It was the last day they were alive, hence the day was selected by their living relatives as the yahrtzeit, the anniversary of their death. If you davened in any shul in Boro Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg, Monsey, Yerushalayim, anywhere that has Hungarian mispallalim in their late seventies and eighties, did you make note how many men had an aliyah l'Torah or said kaddish. 

In the book "Paper Clips", sixth grade students are encouraged by their principal Linda Hooper to learn more about the Shoah, as a lesson in tolerance. The school is in Whitwell, Tennessee near the Chattanooga Mountains. Ms. Hooper describes this town of 1600 people as White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASPs) with no foreigners, Catholics, Muslims, or Jews. To commemorate the Shoah, the students decided to collect six million paper clips. 

As part of this project in 2001, they set out to find an original rail car used to transport Jews to concentration camps. They sent letters to rail companies and museums in Germany, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, and other European nations. Some companies replied, ‘Another Holocaust memorial - it's time to forget what happened sixty years ago'. There are so many people in these countries who are waiting for the first generation of survivors to die. They're counting on the rest of the world forgetting ten, twenty, and fifty years from now. 

Could the Shoah ever happen again? In 1942, the Munkatche Rebbe, son-in-law of the Minchas Elazar, returned from a trip to Poland. He implored the people of Munkatch to leave, describing the atrocities he heard and witnessed. "It's coming here", he said. No one listened. People did not leave. 

My uncle Shalom Romanovski's, A"H, family had a large supermarket. Credit was extended to all, Jews and non-Jews. His father said, "Why should we leave, Ma'ne goyim vet mir nish tin shlecht - my goyim won't do bad things to me". 

Have you visited the Holocaust museum in Washington? Did you note the words in the grand entrance hall? "The Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance". These words were spoken by George Washington on August 17, 1790. If only these words were true in the days of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when this government, the government of George Washington, was begged to intervene and did so little. 

Should we forgive and forget the Nazis? Ask me in fifty generations. 

Hitler trained and cultivated German children to hate Jews. He taught them in schools, displayed pictures of hatred on the street, embedded this in German society, newspapers, banks, theaters, and universities. Jews lived with a yellow symbol of hatred. This became the German gestalt, a belief system of hate. 

Hitler wanted to kill everyone who reads this newspaper. 

We have an obligation to cultivate our children to remember these very Jews Hitler worked so hard to destroy. 

The recent publicized data that amongst young Jews learning about the Holocaust is more historically important to them than learning about Israel is mixed news. The Holocaust and the birth of Israel are inextricably intertwined. Young Jews should have a passion to learn both and within a positive context of good emanating from bad. Israel was born from the Holocaust. 

The Nazis killed every Jew at least twice. They humiliated and degraded them, shaved their heads, made them stand naked, giving people a number, no man or woman had a name. Hamavayesh et chaveiro b'rabim, k'ilu hargo. That was one death. And then they cremated them, a second death. 

Others were taken to the forest and shot. That was their first death. Then their bodies were burned, a second death. 

The sixth grade Protestant children in Tennessee understood this. After collecting the six million paper clips they wondered what they can do with them. One suggestion was to smelt the paper clips into an iron memorial. These ten year old children said, "we can't burn them because every paper clip represents a person and it would be like killing them, cremating them all over". 

When my grandmother Tzivia, A"H, saw her three sons Hershel, Mendel, and Shaul Yecheskel taken away to the German Russian frontlines to pick explosive mines with their bare hands, she asked who will say kaddish for our family. There would be no sons left. 

How do we remember the Shoah? How should we? 

My mother, and her entire Hersh family, arrived in Auschwitz on May 20, 1944. Two signs greeted them: Arbeit Macht Frei and Arbeit Macht Das Leiben Suss, work makes life sweet. An all girls orchestra in gray striped uniforms was playing beautiful music. 

My mother, her parents, sisters, nieces, and nephews all went though The Selection. Twins run in my family and my mother's sister Hindee had five children including six-month-old twin girls. My Aunt Yides, with great recall, who is able to share many details, remembers facing the infamous Dr. Mengele standing with his dog and making those simple hand gestures - left death, right life, left, right, left, right, left, right. To this day my aunt wonders about those twin girls in Dr. Mengele's hands. 

On that same day, my mother and her two sisters heads were shaved, all their possessions removed, and arms tattooed: 

My mother A8936 

Aunt Yides A8937 

Aunt Malka A8938 

It seems that A7713, Elie Weisel arrived at the same time. 

Fifty-two Hersh family members perish on that day, on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. That is my immediate and extended family's yahrtzeit. A day when my mother says yizkor but now can't remember the names of her fifty-two immediate family members or her one hundred and twenty extended family members who perished in the Holocaust. 

Some positive events came from the Shoah. My mother and her two sisters, having spent eleven months together in a concentration camp, became inseparable. Those bonds remain today, sixty-two years later. I believe the self-confidence my brother Yossi and I have stems from our mother, from the war. It's an attitude of ‘you may have tried to kill me, but you won't hurt my sons'. 

It is incumbent upon parents to take their children to visit and explain the children's exhibit in Yad Vashem in memory of Uriel Spiegel. One and a half million children perished. It is a beautiful place to visit: to stand there, to listen to the names of the children in Ivrit, Yiddish, and English, and to cry. Of the fifty-two Hersh family members who died, thirty-five were children. 

Rav Dovid Weinberger of Congregation Shaarei Tefilah in Lawrence recounted when the Ponovitche Rebbe was asked how long we should remember the Shoah. Tisha B'Av, one day commemorates the Churban Bais Hamikdash. The counting of Sefira, forty-nine days commemorate 24,000 Talmidei Rebbe Akiva. The Ponovitche Rebbe said, "How long should we remember the Shoah? FOREVER". 

Elie Weisel in "Night" defines forever. "Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as G-d Himself, NEVER". 

Do we pay special attention to the Tisha B'av kinus written fifteen years ago by the Bobove Rebbe, zt'l, on the Shoah - the modern day churban? I wonder. Can we add a fifth child to the Arba Banim, the Four Sons we describe on Pesach: Chacham, Rasha, Tam, She'aino Yodea L'shol, and Ben Hashoa - the child of the Holocaust. 

What was it like growing up as a Ben Hashoa, as a child of the Holocaust? My brother and I sleeping in the room next to our parents in Crown Heights would hear our father, A"H, screaming most nights that German soldiers were chasing him. My mother would awaken him and say, "Isidore, Kainer Is Nish Du, there's no one here". 

My mother in law often laments about people walking around today in sixty-degree weather without a jacket who complain of a sniffle. Back then, our parents and grandparents marched in freezing snow for hours in uniforms and plastic slippers - and survived. 

My mother and her sister's barracks were across the street from the crematorium. "We could smell the flesh", they recall. How could they do this to the beautiful children? Elie Weisel, again in "Night", writes of the truckloads of dead babies and children unloaded into the crematorium. 

On May 15, 1944 - it was a Wednesday - my mother, her family, and the Jews of Fekete Ordo began their journey in a cattle car. The story my mother has repeated most often is of the beautiful melodic Birchas Rosh Chodesh her father, Reb Dovid, davened that shabbos in the cattle car. How 300 people in a space for 100 were davening and following him with full kavanah. What a Kiddush Hashem! 

On Monday, May 20 - Rosh Chodesh Sivan, after five days in the cattle car in unimaginable intolerable conditions and with many who died on this journey, they arrived in Auschwitz. As they began to be separated, my grandfather said to his family, "Children, try to keep kosher". My mother and her sisters could not know these would be the last words they would hear their father speak. 

The image I want to leave you in this story is that of a potato. A common everyday potato. Everyone has heard countless times how people in concentration camps were fed bread and water, soup with rocks you removed, potato peels you scavenged for a meal. Please pause for a second when you have that delicious potato kugel Friday afternoon or chulent with a potato on Shabbos. Stop and look at that potato, and just for a second think about the Shoah. Think about your parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Think about your friend's grandparents. Think about my grandparents. 

If all of us could view a potato in this way every Shabbos and think of ourselves as a Ben HaShoah - a child of the Shoah, Vehigadita Libincha Bayom Hahu, and you shall tell your children on that day, will not just be the story of the Hagadah once a year on Pesach. The story of the Shoah will be embedded in the fabric of our lives as it should be. 

My mother and her two sisters are, Baruch Hashem, collectively living 184 years longer than Hitler had hoped for, with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, Baruch Hashem, including several sets of twins-totaling thousands of years. 

This is the greatest revenge on Hitler, Yemach Shemo. 

How will we remember the Shoah? How do we ensure our children and grandchildren will recall it fifty years from now? Kol Adam Tzarich Lirot Et Atzmo K'ilu Hu Yatza Min HaShoah. Every person should view himself as if he survived the Shoah. 

In my family, Rosh Chodesh Sivan is the yahrtzeit for fifty-two family members just on my mother's side. The 28th day of Iyar, Yom Yerushalayim, is the yahrtzeit for my wife's mother's family, the Friedman family from Munkatch. 

My mother should live and be well to 120. Until then, I am a child of survivors. After my mother is gone, I will be a survivor! 

Survivors of all types have a special relationship. An invisible connection. An obligation to reach out, to teach as a way of protecting others. An obligation to ensure others understand. To many, the term survivor has negative connotations - that a traumatic bad event occurred. This is true. Imagine the panic and trauma suffered by survivors of cancer, abuse, violence, crashes. But it can also bring people closer together in a good way - to share, to support, and to protect us from such traumatic events in the future. 

The Shoah ended more than sixty years ago. Survivors are scattered throughout the world. We know every year there are fewer and fewer survivors. We, their children - the Ben HaShoah, must now take the mantle of SURVIVOR. This is how we gain strength from our parents' experiences. It is our obligation. 

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  • 01/08/2010 - Record Number of OHEL Bais Ezra Day Trips ...
  • 01/03/2010 - OHEL Celebrates Purim with Le Cirque Du Purime...

ARTICLES

  • Overnight Respite...
  • Employment: The Power of a Paycheck...
  • After the Brooklyn fire tragedy in which seven children died...
  • Rav Elya Brudny and Others Address Over 200 at Conference to...
  • Does Alan Turing have Aspergers Syndrome?...
  • Foster Parenting: How will it affect my children?...
  • “Hard to Place,” Not Hard to Love...
  • The Ties That Bind: Keeping Siblings Together in Foster Car...
  • Confronting Abuse in the Frum World ...
  • Understanding the Educational and Behavioral Needs of Childr...
  • When Divorce Can Save a Marriage...
  • Jewish Kids are in Foster Care, Too...
  • A Fulfilling Life ...
  • Richard Bernstein to Become First Blind State Supreme Court ...
  • Ask the Expert: Eligibility Specialist...
  • Meachorei Hapargod: Lessons for Elul, Courtesy of Summer Ca...
  • Early Parental Loss...
  • Are Gedolim Stories Good Chinuch?...
  • Is Recovery From Mental Illness Possible?...
  • Helping Your Child Accept a New Baby...
  • Self-Esteem or Self-Validation?...
  • “Knock, Knock” “Who's There?” OPWDD: Welcoming the F...
  • Developmentally Disabled Employees Shine In The Workplace...
  • “I Take Care” — Mrs. Miriam Lubling, a”h...
  • The Hallmark of Klal Yisrael: A Caring Heart… Foster care ...
  • Redefining strength...
  • Sustaining the Excitement of the First Year of Marriage...
  • No Complaints...
  • No Shidduch Left Behind...
  • Statewide Project Continues Offering Services to Sandy Victi...
  • 75th Anniversary of the Horrors of Kristallnacht...
  • Etta at OHEL Dedicates Fourth Group Home...
  • Staten Island Jewish victims of Hurricane Sandy Still in Nee...
  • A Slice of Home: Through the eyes of a foster child...
  • Ask Sarah: Newly Married & Worried About Divorce...
  • As New Year Approaches, N.Y. Community Devastated by Hurrica...
  • Oniomania: A Look into the Minds of Compulsive Shoppers...
  • Teens and Saturday Nights: A Parenting Approach...
  • The Loss of a Dream...
  • Help! My Adolescent is Out of Control!...
  • Protecting Our Children: Does a Bakery Have a Soul?...
  • Who Am I? Standing at the precipice of death longing for sta...
  • Nobody Quite Knew What to do With Yaakov...
  • Understanding the Coordination between Early Intervention an...
  • Understanding your "peckel", your packet of problems...
  • Life for Frum Women in domestic violence shelters...
  • United We Stand: The Impact of Disabilities on Marriage...
  • Unique Needs of Children in Foster Care...
  • The Success Story that Finally Happened...
  • It’s a painful process to watch. We joke about it all the ...

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