L’dor v’dor took very literal shape this month as three generations of Jewish Atlantans participated in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 2019 Atlanta Mission Sept. 15 and 16.
Shelley Elise Hersch made the trip to D.C. with her mother, Nica Hersch Tallman and grandmother Helen Lefkowitz Hersch, along with 40 other participants from Atlanta.
Shelley shared her family’s close connection to the Holocaust, and why the trip had special meaning for the trio.
“My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor,” she said. “His whole family was from Poland and he was the only survivor. … My grandmother’s parents, who were from the same town in Poland and actually related to my grandfather’s family, came to America before the war.”
She explained that her grandfather was only able to escape to the U.S. with sponsorship from her grandmother and settled with her family in New Jersey before moving to Atlanta after the war.
The trip to the museum first appeared on their radar at a speaking engagement, and through Eternal Life-Hemshech, in which Nica is an active member and Shelley serves on the board. The timing of the mission closely followed another trip for the three to Poland to learn about their family roots.
“It was such an emotional experience to be there on the doorstep of the ghetto where my grandfather lived,” Shelley said. “When you walk through Auschwitz there are no words; I couldn’t say anything. It was so much more environmental, whereas in the museum, there was a comfort in our ability to talk through what we were seeing.”
She also described her initial reaction to walking through the doors to the museum with her mother and grandmother by her side.
“It was reassuring to be there with my family and know that we were here. Despite everything that’s happened, I get to be here,” she said. “At different points you’re sad, you’re overwhelmed, you’re angry, but also proud. I was proud to say, ‘I’m here.’”
Shelley added that different exhibits touched each of them differently, noting that her grandmother was most uncomfortable seeing the train cars loaded with Jews on their way to concentration camps, while she and her mother were struck by the amount of information that was available during the Holocaust and the lack of response from much of the world, including America.
“Walking through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with Shelley, Nica and Helen was an incredibly powerful experience,” said Robert Tanen, director of the museum’s Southeast region. “As a global institution, it’s the museum’s responsibility to forever preserve the evidence, the stories and the memories of the Holocaust. But to see the museum through the Hersch/Tallman family’s multigenerational lens was very meaningful on a personal level, and for the entire Atlanta delegation.”
Part of the trip included a behind-the-scenes panel discussion with museum staffers, and Shelley explained that the museum’s goal of preventing future genocide resonated with her.
“I had no idea how much work was being done outside the museum itself,” she said. “It’s about preventing mass genocide around the world every day, and that really was so encouraging to know. … It didn’t just stop with us, and the museum is working so hard to make sure that it stops everywhere.”