Illustration: G-d Bless Hitler Muslim Protest by Unknown [CC BY-NC 3.0] via WikiIslam
I belong to a Facebook group called Children of Holocaust Survivors. This is quite a select group, but not one which I would have chosen to join for the purpose of enjoying dazzling wit or sparkling repartee. Rather, we are a group who commiserate together, swapping distressing stories of fractured childhoods, absent relatives, and broken parents.
We grew up in homes with dark corners of secrets. We acquired shards of information, osmotic whispers, shadows of something terrible that had transpired in the lives of our mothers and fathers. Unanswered questions by questing sons and daughters, searching for questionable answers.
“Where is your mommy and daddy? Why don’t we have a granny or grandpa? What do you mean, ‘They were killed in the war’? Why were they killed in the war? What is war?”
Some of our parents were able to speak. Some were so traumatized they were paralyzed into silence, rendered inarticulate and inconsolable. Some carried the brutality of their enslavement across the threshold of their doors, inflicting grave physical assaults on their own offspring. Some sank into blank landscapes of deep depression, emotionally ill-equipped to protect their children from growing up anxious, fearful, and forever psychologically damaged.
Some of us got lucky. We were gifted with parents who managed somehow, with superhuman powers, to overcome their horrendous past, determined to face living again. Empty eyes. Bleak souls. Shattered hearts. Trying to reconcile an impossible past with the possibility of a positive future. Emotionally bereft, these half-dead skeletons who crawled out of Nazi concentration camps with only their names and tattooed numbers, survivors of death marches and slave labor camps.
Their crime? They were born Jewish.
These tortured, defenseless, brilliant, forgiving, dignified, inspirational people who became our parents.
Oh, we’re quite a group, we Children of Holocaust Survivors.
Our conversations are littered with accounts of unspeakable brutality. We hold epigenetic memories of burning flesh in our nostrils, see children hanging off electric fences in our dreams, hear the echoing screams of our terrified grandparents as the fumes of Zyklon B suffocated them, and tremble with midnight shakes as we weep for what was, what was lost, and the embedded effect on successive generations.
We’re a motley crew, scattered around the world, speaking many languages but hearing the same voices, similar stories. We’re all baby-boomers, born into an immediate post-war world, where a decade or so after, not many people wanted to speak, share knowledge of or even admit to experiencing or witnessing the savagery of the Holocaust.
The perpetrators who participated in this insane barbarism were dutiful citizens who murdered Jews in ghettos and concentration camps during the day, returning to their warm homes at night to oversee homework and chat over family dinners. Whether they lived in Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Austria, Holland, Hungary, France, Czechoslovakia, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter, not many of them subsequently admitted to knowing what was happening to Jews on their blood-soaked continent. Denying both accountability and culpability. Eschewing their complicity and collaboration, whether active or passive, in the wholesale slaughter of six million Jews.
Our group discusses our inheritance: our travel talk covers geographical signposts of hellish place names. A map of killing grounds mulched with the ashes and bones of Jews through periods of crusades, inquisitions, expulsions, pogroms, gas chambers, and death camps. Auschwitz. Belsen. Buchenwald. Dachau. Mauthausen. Ravensbruck. Sobibor. Stutthof. Theresienstadt. Treblinka.
We the children are now senior citizens ourselves, and every week or so someone in the group somberly announces the passing of their mother or father. And so, we of shared histories mourn collectively. We respond to these familiar strangers, most of whom we’ll never meet face-to-face but with whom we share a universal sorrow, with our traditional words of condolence, “Wishing you long life….”
And of course, we discuss the noxious waves of anti-Semitism, a rising tide around the world, relentlessly lapping at the bulwarks of our fragile fortifications. We watch with mounting horror while the drumbeats of anti-Semitism thrum louder, as extremist fanatics try to legitimize their illegitimate agenda. Age-old hatreds, centuries in the proliferation thereof, covert through some historical epochs, overtly festering in this millennium. Again.
In the face of Holocaust deniers, who lyingly assert that the gas chambers and crematoria were a myth, we pledge to keep reiterating the testamental truths that are our legacy. Spread by social networks, endorsed by mainstream media, cynically radicalized by self-serving politicians, and funded by shady alt-right/left-luvvy groups, we despair at the sly vitriol promulgated by disgraceful academics across educational institutions, conspiracy theorists, and tinpot zealots as we realize that the scourge of anti-Semitism is upon us. Again.
Imams incite their brainwashed followers to “stab the Jewish infidels.” Pious prelates proclaim their affiliation to the abhorrent BDS movement by divesting their well-heeled pension funds from Jewish businesses, while political poltroons rail at the effrontery of other governments relocating embassies to Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.
Jewish academics are boycotted from speaking on campuses, Jewish students are under physical threat at some of these same institutions, and across Europe it’s too dangerous to identify as a Jew by wearing a yarmulke or placing a mezuzah on the front doors of their homes. Incitement and provocation are the catch calls of current rhetoric from those who are determined to marginalize — and some even positing aloud calls to eliminate — Jews. Again.
Here’s why we worry: our own grandchildren, the great-grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, now go to Jewish schools and heders (Jewish study institutions) under armed guard. In fact, every single Jewish organization around the world — whether synagogues, schools, museums, community centers, hospitals, et al., every day, for every function utilized — requires security protection. A frightening reality for us and a terrifying portent of what could lie ahead. We keep repeating, “Never again!” yet this seems a hollow phrase as we stare into the swampy abyss of endless anti-Semitism.
As I was growing up, my beloved mother, herself a survivor of the Kovno ghetto and Stutthof Konzentratzionlager who had grieved for the murders of her mother, Irla, father, Tevye, and brother, Hessel, would often admonish my siblings and myself. She warned us that although the post-Holocaust world seemed slightly more favored towards Jews as a result of collective guilt, the anti-Semitism specter constantly hovered in the background. She would say, in Yiddish, “Kinder, es is kumendik (Children, it is coming).”
We, the children of Holocaust survivors, now confirm our parents most dreaded fears: “Es ist doh (It is here).”
In remembrance of the Holocaust, the author dedicates this piece in loving memory of her mother, Henny Kagan Hitner, her family, and the millions of Jewish souls whose lives were cruelly eviscerated before they reached their allocated potential.
Illana Hitner Klevansky is a freelance writer and dramatist. Author of “The Kugel Book,” she is a writer/actor of her one-woman satirical comedies, performed in English, Afrikaans and Yiddish. This piece is reprinted with the permission of the author.