We Are All Survivors at Yom HaShoah
OpinionYom HaShoah Thoughts

We Are All Survivors at Yom HaShoah

An ancestry investigation reveals closer connections to the Holocaust, with more personal losses.

A NFTY member lights a memorial candle for a survivor at the Memorial to the Six Million during the annual Yom HaShoah service in 2017.
A NFTY member lights a memorial candle for a survivor at the Memorial to the Six Million during the annual Yom HaShoah service in 2017.

Yom HaShoah is approaching. It is a time of remembrance and reflection. For many people, it is also a time of action to make more concrete the byword of “never again.”

I have thought for a long time that everyone in the Jewish community is likely a survivor in some fashion. And now we have information that our own family has a much more direct connection to the Shoah than we had known.

My wife’s immediate family, on both sides, came to America before or during World War I, as did my family. We had no knowledge of anyone who stayed. Family either came to America or went to South Africa.

However, my wife has a cousin in Moscow whom she found through an ancestry site in the past three years. This cousin, just this summer, told her about relatives who were lost in the Holocaust. One died at Dachau. Others were killed by Lithuanians on the first day of Nazi occupation.

At 11 a.m. Sunday, April 15, a service will commemorate Yom HaShoah for the 53rd consecutive year at the Memorial for the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery in Southwest Atlanta, which has large and active Jewish sections.

The memorial was constructed entirely by survivors of the Holocaust who had made their way to Atlanta after they escaped the horrors in Europe and who built new lives here.

Ben Hirsch, who died recently, was the architect of the memorial. He will be remembered at this year’s service. He was representative of the spirit of all the survivors who came to this country and contributed so much to it.

With the passing of each survivor, our joy is diminished. But many are still with us, and a number will be coming to the April 15 service.

The community can show its support of and appreciation for all the survivors by coming to the service. Our keynote speaker is Helen Weingarten, who is originally from Romania. She will tell her story of survival.

As the years pass, members of the second, third and fourth generations of the survivors take up the task of remembering, and all members of the community have that responsibility as well. We should never forget the victims of the Holocaust and the survivors.

The lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten. Even with the tragedies that have occurred since the Holocaust — with the attempted genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Iraq (the Yazidis by Islamic State) and other places — we must remain vigilant that they not succeed.

As Jews, we must be one of the loudest canaries in the coal mine to speak truth to power and to ensure that we do as much as we can so that genocide does not happen again.

One way to keep that task in the forefront of our minds is to attend a commemoration service and participate with survivors because, as I think, we are all survivors. Please join us Sunday, April 15.

Harold Kirtz is the chair of the Yom HaShoah Commemoration Committee.

read more: