A Memorial Day is about remembrance.
Remember not to forget,
Remember to honor,
Remember for you and for me.
To remember is also to re-member, to become whole again.
Individually and collectively.
My experience of re-membering is my life journey. As a second-generation Shoah survivor, I was born a victim. Or at least, this is what I was led to believe. There was a sense that Jewish = Auschwitz. That Auschwitz defines our identity and our destiny. The words Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, gas chambers, cattle trains, ovens, police, became images, penetrating and imprinting my memory. The dead family members were familiar ghosts I was having lengthy conversations with. The boundaries between the living and the dead were blurred.
The dead kept alive.
The living partly dead.
As far as I remember, I rejected my Auschwitz identity. I am not Jewish because of Auschwitz! There must be something else out there! There must be a recipe for another way of living. On this life and death compass, life became my North star, my choice. I used to spend hours with my only surviving grandmother, accumulating pieces of the life before the Shoah, of my Jewish identity, creating an anchor in what felt like “normal” roots.
My re-membering is to honor the life I received from my parents and their exterminated loved ones. To carry victimhood as another version of the concentration camp tattoo did not feel like a good option. It was not easy because the pull from the victim is powerful and seductive. I found my peace in my search for healing.
Myself, and then sharing with others.
My light in the darkness is to honor and give space to the victims in my family. Finding my grandmother’s grave in Bergen Belsen, thanks to historian Bernd Horstman, after 73 years was a light in the darkness. Standing above the earth where she lies, I connected with her, and with a sense there was once a body, a physical, concrete person. She becomes a dead grandmother, not just a victim of the Shoah, a name on a list of convoys to Auschwitz, an unfathomable concept.
I got my grandmother back somehow.
In that moment, I also reconnected to a sense of respect and dignity. If there is a grave, a ritual becomes possible. Grief becomes possible. And there is a new feeling: I am not helpless this time.
Light into the darkness: Bernd and I cried together. For the destruction, the broken order of life and love, and the pain of his people and mine.
“We cannot recover from this history until we deal with it”: these are the words of Bryan Stevenson, from the Equal Justice Initiative, who is dedicating his career to helping the poor and the incarcerated. So, how can we deal with the history of the Holocaust in order to recover from it?
For me, dealing with the Shoah is transforming my victim tattoo into a new concept. Finding the way beyond the victim versus the perpetrator. Nothing can be gained from that old story. It is time to change it. Taking responsibility for dealing with the Holocaust, as Jews, Poles, Germans, French, Austrians is the key.
I am dedicating my life to spreading “EmotionAid”, a 5-step protocol, for self-regulation and emotional first aid. “EmotionAid” was made in Israel but is now in thirteen languages helping people globally to deal with stress.
My way of lighting a candle in the darkness.
What is your way?