Holocaust memories to live on
Updated: 2015-04-14 07:42
Holocaust survivor Alexander Butschuk, dressed in concentration camp clothing, arrives at the former Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald near Weimar, Germany, on Sunday. Last weekend, Germany marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp by the US army on April 11, 1945. [Photo/Agencies]
Children of survivors learn to recount horror that parents endured in concentration camps
When David Hershkoviz was a child, he used to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of his mother screaming in her sleep, knowing that she was reliving the horrors of the Holocaust.
In time, he learned of the traumatic wartime experience that haunted her most－being torn away from her own mother at the Auschwitz concentration camp's selection line, where at 21 she was forced into work and her mother dispatched to death.
"That separation never left her," said Hershkoviz, 54, his voice quivering as he choked back tears. "She said, 'I think my mother is angry at me because I left her. ... My mother never comes to me in my dreams. I haven't dreamed about her since we parted. How is that possible?'"
When his mother, Mindel, died two years ago, he wanted to carry on her legacy by bearing witness to the Holocaust. He found help in a first-of-its-kind course teaching the children of Holocaust survivors how to ensure their parents' stories live on.
Hershkoviz is one of 18 graduates of the Shem Olam Institute's inaugural four-month "second-generation" course, where children of survivors study the history of the horrors their parents endured and how best to pass it on. The program aims to usher in a new stage of Holocaust commemoration in a post-survivor era.
The German Nazis and their collaborators murdered 6 million Jews during World War II, wiping out a third of world Jewry. Only a few hundred thousand elderly survivors remain, and the day is fast approaching when there will be no one left to provide a coherent first-person account of the ghettos and death camps.
With Israel marking its annual Holocaust remembrance day this week, that has become the central challenge for Holocaust institutes around the world as they rush to collect as many records and belongings as possible before the live testimony of survivors is gone.
Shem Olam looks to take this trend one step further, by not only recording survivors' biographies but also the emotional experiences that can be relayed through their children.
"We are here to give a different narrative of the Holocaust. We've heard the story of tragedy, we want to give the story of how people coped inside this living hell," said Avraham Krieger, the institute's director.
Established in 1996, Shem Olam looks to provide the "story behind the story" and getting beyond the victimization to focus on issues of faith and resilience.
Krieger, himself a child of survivors, said the second generation grew up in homes that were haunted by the past and where the concept of a grandparent was nonexistent.
He believes that in 100 years, when people recall the Holocaust, they will be most interested in how people lived rather than how they died. He says it is his generation's responsibility to counter the myth of Jews meekly marching to their deaths.
"The story of the Holocaust is how a person copes in such an environment," he said. "An extreme reality, which has no parallel in modern history, of people who are in the most dire human situation and are still maintaining their humanity, still maintaining something from their values."
Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said it would be very meaningful for future generations to have live contact with people who had personal relationships with survivors.
"That physical presence of a second generation person will lend authenticity to the history and will give it another dimension," she said.