Story by Zack Gross, Los Angeles Chapter, Restoring Family Links Fellow
On January 27th, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking 68 years since the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated, we remember the victims of the Nazi era and contemplate how such atrocities could happen. For me, this is a day on which I commemorate my grandmother, grandfather and great aunt, survivors of Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz concentration camps. It is with deep sadness that I think about my grandparents, and how their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, cousins, grandparents, and many dear friends, together with 6 million other Jews, perished in a Nazi regime awash in cruelty and hatred.
Today I mourn those who were lost, but it is also a day to be thankful for those who survived. What I remember most about my grandparents was how they always enjoyed being in the presence of their children and grandchildren. Whether it was the mundane afternoon of playing cards, or a more exciting walk to the park, the happiness that their family brought them was unequaled, evident just from the smiles on their faces. Now as an adult, I truly appreciate how important it was for them, after having lost their entire families at the hands of the Nazis, and living for so many years with empty spaces in their hearts, to have a family again. A family they knew lived in a place that was safer and more kind than the one they had left behind.
As the Restoring Family Links Fellow with the American Red Cross, I am in a unique position to be working every day with people who have lost contact with their families much the same as my grandparents. I have worked with many individuals whose families perished along with mine in the concentration camps of Poland and Germany. I have even had the pleasure of meeting an individual who coincidentally knew my grandfather from before the war, when they lived in the same small village in Poland. When I go to these clients’ homes to assist them in opening tracing Inquiries to find the fate of their lost loved ones, I have never once left without them proudly showing me pictures of their children and grandchildren. Although I can feel the same grief in their hearts that my grandparents tried to hide, I also feel the extraordinary love they have for the family they have today.
The Restoring Family Links program is not just a service to bring solace to the survivors of historical conflicts like the Holocaust. Every day, the Restoring Family Links program actively works with individuals to help connect them with family they lost in conflicts ranging from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, to the current crisis in Syria. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is also a time to remember all of the victims of conflict, and to contemplate the fact that families are still being torn apart by conflict every day. It is our duty on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day to consider what we must do as a collective society to ensure that future generations of families can stay together in peace.
So while I reflect with sorrow on the experiences of my grandparents and the millions of people who experienced similar horrors of the Nazi regime, it is also a day that I stand in solidarity with those who continue to live apart from their families because of the cruelty of war. It is a day on which I feel privileged to have such a wonderful family just a car ride or phone call away, and for that I am thankful beyond words.
Articles and Blogs on Holocaust Remembrance Day:
- International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2013: Victims Mourned At Auschwitz And Beyond; By Vanessa Gera, published on Huffington Post, January 27, 2013.
- An Unsung Hero How a Japanese Diplomat, and one of my personal heroes, Saved 6,000 Jews from the Holocaust; By George Takei, published on George Takei's blog, January 26, 2013.
- On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembering Also the Sacrifices of Those Who Tried to Stop It; By Gregory C. Pappas, published on Huffington Post, January 27, 2013.
- World Marks Holocaust Remembrance Day; found on Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty on January 27, 2013.