On this Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I think of the family that I never met, my grandparents Charlotte and Jacob. and my two aunts Annette and Marie. We say we must remember on this day, but I cannot. With them vanished the potential for any memories, laughter or tears I could ever have shared with one set of grandparents and aunts and the uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins that were never to be. I was just left with a void.
But my mother somehow filled that void with love and wisdom after surviving being left alone in the world at only five-years-old. So on this day of Remembrance I remember my mother that I buried just three weeks ago today, for she too was a victim, likely plagued her whole life with thoughts of wondering how they died, feeling guilty wondering why she survived, why she was hidden in safety while they perished. This pain she surely felt was never shared.
Instead she passed on an appreciation for life, and exuded warmth to everyone she met. She had empathy for all and never showed any bitterness, even after all she had experienced. She taught me to never forget the Holocaust and that it could happen again. Until recent years I did not believe that, but with the insidious rise in hate toward so many and with the highest number of anti Semitic incidents in the US ever recorded this year, with these incidents now occurring so frequently they are no longer at all shocking or even surprising, it gives me pause.
We must not let ourselves become desensitized to hate. We must feel each other’s pain — every swastika, every act of racism and Islamophobia, every attempt to hurt someone because of who they choose to love– we must all feel the pain because we are all victims when hate is allowed to fester in society. We have to work harder and do better at educating ourselves and our children about our differences and at embracing our diversity.
The emptiness of the memories I do not have but still long for are a reminder of what hate can do and where it can lead if left unchecked. We must commit to continue the hard work of confronting and defeating hate even as it continues to rise. The loss of the family I never met along with the memory of my mother’s warmth, empathy and resilience teach us that love can and will overcome hate. We must believe that. We must never forget and we must never give up.