Thursday, May 1, 2008

From Auschwitz to the IAF


Today is Yom Hashoah VeHagvurah- a day dedicated to remembering the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust and those brave men, women, and children who did what they could to try to fight back.

As the child of survivors, this day has a lot of personal significance for me. My father a"h was just 13 years old when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, his mother and 8 of his brothers and sisters were sent directly to the gas chamber. An older sister and an older brother were selected to work; they both survived the war. My father, who was rather short and skinny, was hidden under the overcoat of a man standing next to him and was not seen by the German soldiers who were making the selection. When the man with the overcoat was sent straight to a labor camp, my father went with him. That is how he survived without receiving a number on his arm. After spending eight months in a labor camp near Dachau, he was liberated and sent to a Displaced Persons Camp. Eventually, he snuck on to a ship that was headed for America. Upon the ship's arrival in New York, he was discovered as a stowaway and arrested (I've actually seen his mugshot- he kept it). In order to avoid being deported, he volunteered for the U.S. Army, which rejected him as a 4F. He was then free to apply for citizenship.

Or so I was told. I don't really know how accurate that story is. My father very rarely spoke about what happened to him or to his family during the war. When we would ask him questions, he would respond vaguely and change the subject. My mother told me what she knew, and she admits that he told her very little as well. My father happily told us about his life before the camps and about his early years in America, but he never wanted to talk about the time in between.

My mother's story is simpler. She was only 4 years old when the Germans came to Budapest. Her parents bribed some official to place her and her brother and sister in an orphanage run by the Red Cross, which was full of Jewish children masquerading as Gentiles. Her parents got a job working as domestic servants for a Gentile family on a farm. They too survived by pretending to be non-Jews. After the war, my grandfather trekked through the snow on foot to pick his children up from the orphanage and bring them home. A number of aunts, uncles and cousins were not as lucky.

Fast forward 63 years. The children of these two survivors are successful, educated, Torah observant Americans. Their grandchildren have basic knowledge but no real understanding of the events that killed their family members so long ago. And yet, they are all (baruch Hashem) good Jewish kids who are doing their part to carry on the traditions that their grandparents brought with them from Europe. One of them, my brother's daughter, has recently been inducted into the Israeli Air Force.

Am Yisrael Chai (the Jewish people live), despite the best efforts of those Nazi bastards.
May the memory of the Jews who perished serve as a reminder to us today to never give up the fight.

10 comments:

MAK said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing that.

mother in israel said...

Thanks for sharing that.

muse said...

such a special story

Ilanadavita said...

Great story, thank you.

Leora said...

Thank you for sharing your family's story.

Jack said...

Thanks for sharing that.

Baila said...

Beatifully told.

Jacob Da Jew said...

Amazing story!

RR said...

That is indeed an amazing story!

Michael said...

You have an amazing family story. Thanks for sharing.