Last night I attended a local Yom Hashoah commemoration. It was pretty pathetic. Not the program itself, but the turnout. I remember when the auditorium was packed, and now there are many more empty seats than occupied seats.
The one "positive" element in last night's program was that the keynote speaker was herself a survivor. In the past I've noted that one manifestation of the dwindling survivor population is that it isn't uncommon for the speakers at these events not to be survivors themselves. Sometimes they are the children of survivors relating their parent's tales second hand or what it was to like grow up as the child of survivors. Other times it is a historian or a figure with something poignant to add to the day.
So it was refreshing and an honor to listen to this cute little Hungarian woman for thirty minutes. Without rehashing the debate over Yom Hashoah, these people deserve to have a day set aside for them to be honored with the opportunity to speak of their experiences. The right wing refuses to observe Yom Hashoah and claims it incorporates this memorial into Tisha Beav. But it isn't just about remember the dead victims. I hope that they give the survivors their due on that day as well.
In the course of her address she related how years later her path crossed with another woman whom had been with at some point. They each recognized each from somewhere but it took a few minutes to figure out exactly from where. Was it Auschwitz? One of the other two camps to which she was subsequently evacuated to when the Germans abandoned Auschwitz? The final internment in Nuremberg? The first DP camp? The refugee center back in Budapest? The second DP camp?
How different from the reference points we use when we reconnect with a long lost acquaintance, as we try to figure out if we know each other from elementary school, high school, day camp, sleepaway camp, Israel, college, grad school, sitting next to each other at Yossi's wedding, etc.
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Last night I spoke to David about the Holocaust. I wasn't sure how much to tell him, but I wish I hadn't left it for the last minute. In the course of the conversation I told him about my grandmother's baby brother, who was murdered in the Holocaust. (He was really an adult at that point, but she hadn't seen him since he was a baby.) I told how thankful I am that my grandparents themselves were in America long before the Holocaust. And that we have to be thankful for America and for Israel.