International Holocaust Memorial Day – Time rushes by and memories are lost

Trains to Life – Trains to” Death” – Frank Meisler

International Holocaust Day is not as important in Israel as it is in the world. In Israel, Holocaust Memorial Day comes a week ahead of Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day that comes right next. Thus, the concept of “from the Holocaust to Revival” is presented. Nowadays, the remembrance of the Holocaust has been ever so important in light of the “fake news” and fake proceedings and actions that are spread around. We need to keep in mind the unthinkable acts of evil of the last century.

There were no fictitious facts when the International Holocaust Memorial Day was established. Just real facts backed up by evidence, documents, and survivors, and there were lies. Sheer lies are still being spread by countries (Poland for one), scholars and right-wing politicians, not to mention anti-Semitic organizations. It is not only the “alternative and fake facts” that the memorial of the Holocaust has to overcome nowadays but forgetfulness as well. Hence, International Holocaust Memorial Day’s importance as a reminder, a means of deterrence, of putting people on guard.

Only if we remember and perceive the historical, social and other processes that preceded the Holocaust can we stop the next one! Since the “second time” is usually much more sophisticated and fiercer, one must try to prevent it at all costs. To refute “scholars in their own eyes” and academics who make their name by denying the Holocaust, we must record it in every possible way and use the witnesses and testimonies that still exist today.

One of my greatest sins, and in my opinion, a crime made by every child, is taking their parents for granted. They were always here, and they would still be. True, we are all aware that they are growing old. We understand that the day will come when we will have to take care of them as they cared for us. But we do not think about what will be lost when they are gone. We never ask direct questions that are going to bug us later, as we believe that it will offend them. As a tiny and simple example, here’s a sad anecdote about the Haroset recipe on Passover eve. When my sister-in-law asked me what to bring to the Seder table, I asked her for Haroset, because I had never prepared one. Haroset is a dish made of nuts and dates. My sister-in-law was very pleased. However, a couple of minutes later, she called me back crying and said, “But I cannot ask my mother how to make it!” Her words shook me deeply, and I decided to document my parents’ past, as I was able to reconstruct for generations to come.

Both my parents came to Israel as pioneers. My father sailed to Israel on a ship by the name of “Parita” that left the coast of Costanza, Romania. There were 850 Beitar members on board the ship, which was fit to carry about 300 people. The immigrants did not have immigration permits, and despite the efforts of the Tel Aviv residents, most of the immigrants were arrested by the British. They were taken to Zrifin detention camp. A few days later, on September 1, 1939, World War II broke out and the British let the illegal immigrants go. My father refused to talk about the home he left behind. Rare emotional circumstances would crack the wall of silence, and we would get a glimpse of his former life. He always claimed that it was “kalta kashe” (the expression is in Yiddish meaning: “cold porridge,” denoting a thing that is no more timely.)

My grand father and grand mother
Nachum and Rachel Grinstein of blessed memory

My mother came to Israel three years before him, as an immigrant with a certificate (immigration permit issued by the British). The British license allowed the immigration of married couples, thereby doubling the number of eligible immigrants. This created the phenomenon of fake marriages between single men and single women, who “married” to obtain the permit to get to Israel. She never talked about it, or about the way she made it to the Land of Israel, about her large family, or her memories of the Vilkomir (later renamed Ukmergė). Since she was a legal immigrant, she brought with her some stuff from home. After her death, I found some pictures and albums I had never seen, and I did not know who was watching me from the brown photos with their yellow edges, and there is no one to ask. Some of the photos were large and did not go into albums. They were wrapped in large envelopes, and the silverfish feasted on them.

Luckily, I still have one living aunt. She is my uncle’s wife, my mother’s brother. It turned out that she knows the history of the family. She identified the persons photographed in the big damaged pictures. For the first time in my life, I saw my grandparents on my mother’s side, in large clear pictures (the photo above), her brother and some of their children. I had such a big family.

My mother listened, for many years, to the radio “Search for relatives,” a short ten-minute radio program that was broadcast several times a day and echoed through Tel Aviv streets. The program is still aired today too, albeit in a different format. The names of the searchers and the names of the people they were looking for were read over and over. It aided many families to find relatives that survived. My mother discovered her two younger brothers in Russia. For many years she sent requests to the Russian authorities to bring her two brothers to Israel until she finally succeeded. About the family that “disappeared” no one spoke. She never mentioned how and where her family, Greenstein, was shot dead. This information was wrapped up in a cloud under the title Holocaust! (“They were murdered in the Holocaust,” Darling).

My father never spoke of his parents and sisters’ death either, nor did I know if he himself knew. One day, a cousin who lives in Canada came to visit. He was the youngest child in the family. Then I learned that my father’s family was not murdered by the Nazis, but by Ukrainian peasants; Jews killing was one of their favorite activities over the years. They entered the Jewish houses early in the morning, armed with thorns and knives, and murdered all in their beds. The cousin from Canada was the only child to survive, as he was covered with blankets and was not spotted by the hooligans. I saw my father crying, and I did not dare to ask questions.

Breslav memorial
The two surviving brothers next to the memorial monument in Breslow forest, where the family was murdered

My mother did not say a word about how and where her family was murdered, and I thought that she did not know. But my aunt told me, upon my asking, the story of my mother’s family murder. When my grandfather, a well-to-do man with a truck company, realized that the Jews were going to die, he decided to run away. He put the entire family, his children, their in-laws, and his grandchildren, onto the trucks and wagons, and set off. They traveled for 15 consecutive hours until nightfall. They arrived in Breslow, where they stopped to rest and allowed the families to sleep. His two single sons, my mother’s brothers, decided not to stay for the night. They reached Russia safely and were saved, found by my mother and eventually came to Israel. The rest of the family was caught the following morning by the Nazis and was murdered with the rest of the Breslow Jews.

Disclosure: I do not guarantee the historical truth of the things described in this post. This is what I do know, and I write down to document. I will forever regret that I did not dare ask. If you have additional information that will shed light on the historical events of that time or a story of your own that you wish to document and share, please write below.

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