Jewish Journal


April 12, 2007

Pledge to survivors—we will carry the torch


Growing up, we whose parents had emerged out of the Shoah believed that they were indestructible. After all, they overcame the German efforts to murder them, survived ghettos and death camps, and rebuilt their lives after the war. They also had a special appreciation and zest for life. In our eyes, they were truly the "greatest generation." It seemed to us that our parents would be here forever, and that they would always protect us, their children.

But age and the frailties of the human body are proving to be inexorable. The ranks of those who suffered alongside the murdered victims of the Holocaust are steadily dwindling. All too soon, their voices will no longer be heard. Many sons and daughters of survivors have already lost one or both of their parents. My father, the fiery leader of the survivors of Bergen-Belsen, died in 1975 at the age of 64. My mother, one of the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., died 22 years later. More recently, the passing in late 2006 of Sigmund Strochlitz and Benjamin Meed, two of the most prominent Holocaust survivors in the United States, served to remind us all that we truly are at a moment of generational transition.

The responsibility for transmitting the survivors' legacy of remembrance into the future must now increasingly shift to us -- their children and grandchildren. In his keynote address at the First International Conference of Children of Holocaust Survivors in 1984, Elie Wiesel mandated us to do what the survivors "have tried to do -- and more: to keep our tale alive -- and sacred." We are fortunate that the survivors are most ably represented by Sam E. Bloch, Roman Kent and Max Liebmann, the leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, but it is now incumbent on us, the members of the second and third generations, to stand and work alongside them more closely than ever before in perpetuating remembrance and challenging the conscience of humankind. Our task is to integrate our parents' memories, spirit and perseverance into the Jewish community's and the world's collective consciousness.

The sons and daughters of the survivors are diverse, multitalented and anything but homogeneous. Among us are Holocaust remembrance activists such as Rositta Kenigsberg, Romana Strochlitz Primus and Leonard Wilf -- with whom I had the privilege of serving on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Dr. Joel M. Geiderman, co-chair of the Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the Council's present vice-chairman; and psychologist Eva Fogelman, who pioneered support groups for children of survivors in the 1970s.

Our ranks also include Helen Epstein, author of the influential 1979 book, "Children of the Holocaust: Conversations With Sons and Daughters of Survivors"; Israeli clinical psychologist Yaffa Singer, an internationally recognized authority on post-traumatic stress disorder in military personnel and veterans; former World Jewish Congress Executive Director Elan Steinberg, the brilliant strategist behind the successful effort to wrest $1.25 billion of Holocaust assets from Swiss banks; my wife, Jean Bloch Rosensaft, an art historian and museum director who has curated numerous exhibitions of art by survivors and children of survivors as well as an international traveling photo exhibition about the displaced persons camp of Bergen-Belsen; talented novelists Lily Brett, Thane Rosenbaum and Melvin Jules Bukiet; Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist Art Spiegelman; CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer; New York Times journalist Joseph Berger; Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former senior aide to New York Governor George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Alphonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.); Vivian Bernstein, co-chief of the Group Programmes Unit of the Department of Public Information at the United Nations; Rabbi Kenneth Stern of Manhattan's Park Avenue Synagogue; Detroit psychologist Charles Silow, who devotes himself to the care of elderly survivors; Holocaust historian and educator David Silberklang; film historian Annette Insdorf and documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner; American Jewish Committee Executive Vice President David Harris; Serena Woolrich, the founder of Allgenerations, an Internet clearinghouse of information for survivors and their families; Forward publisher Samuel Norich; museum architect Daniel Libeskind; and Israeli singer Yehuda Poliker who composed the classic rock ballad, "This Is Treblinka Station," to name only a few.

Each one of us implements our parents' legacy in a unique, personal way. Together, we personify our generation.

Because we are our parents' children and grandchildren, we have a greater understanding of and sensitivity to their experiences than anyone else. We, who are the personal witnesses to the survivors, must ensure that their horrendous experiences, the brutal mass murder of their families, our families, and the attempted annihilation of European Jewry as a whole will never be forgotten, and that our parents' and grandparents' values and souls will remain core elements of the national and international institutions of memory they helped create. We must carry on their unwavering struggle against all attempts to diminish the Jewish essence and centrality of the Shoah. We must intensify their allegiance and commitment to the centrality of the State of Israel. And we must maintain their staunch opposition to all manifestations of Holocaust denial or trivialization. That is our pledge to our parents this Yom HaShoah.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

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