“Man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
- William Faulkner, speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1950
As soon as I walked through the large double doors with my grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, we were overwhelmed by a flood of friendly faces. “Irwin, how are you doing this week? I haven’t heard from you in a few days,” asked Eva, another survivor, and one of my grandparents’ best friends with whom they speak almost every day. But as soon as I gave Eva a hug, my grandma Freda was already busy shuttling me in a different direction, exclaiming, “You remember Gita – we were two of seven Holocaust survivor women who were finally bat mitzvahed at the age of 64!”
My grandparents truly feel at home in this community of survivors who have experienced the worst atrocities ever committed by mankind. As I witnessed the expressions of joy and happiness around the room, I felt bubbling within me the greatest of all human emotions – that of hope. Even the horror of the Holocaust had not vanquished the human spirit. The faces in the room bore testament to the fact that man has not merely endured, he has prevailed.
On this day, we were celebrating the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) 20th anniversary at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California. A special ceremony of the flags of the US Army liberating divisions was performed to honor World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors. During the ceremony, the Director of the USHMM announced that there were 250 survivors in attendance, and she promised the survivors that the museum will always be there to preserve their memory. After asking my grandparents how they felt about the ceremony, my grandfather remarked, “After liberation we were told to forget about what happened. It took decades before the Jewish people in the United States recognized and accepted what survivors went through and what we lost. I’m grateful that they finally acknowledged our experiences and built a national museum to perpetuate memory.”
My grandparents’ hope is that generations of Holocaust survivor descendants will ensure that such an important chapter in human history is never forgotten. The survivors’ hope, courage, and will to prevail have moved me to take action. Under the aegis of Remember Us and as a PresenTense Fellow, I am developing a project called Tell and Retell that will train third generation Holocaust survivors to share their grandparents' stories with children and teenagers in the Los Angeles area. Through gatherings, professional development, and mentorship from writers, artists, and those experienced in transmitting life stories, a community of grandchildren of survivors will be given the opportunity to share their grandparents' experiences and help sustain the legacy of Holocaust memory.
As a third generation survivor, I recognize how challenging it will be to educate my children and grandchildren about the Holocaust when my grandparents’ generation is no longer with us. That is why I am so compelled to do my part to create skilled and passionate Holocaust educators who will be around in the absence of the survivor community. At the USHMM 50th anniversary, there may not be any survivors left in the room, but I hope that we, the descendants will be there to carry the torch.
Ashley Gleitman Waterman is a Board Member of Remember Us. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Education & Spanish Literature from Emory University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Columbia University. Ashley currently works at Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles. Her previous professional experience includes working at a non-profit for patients with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, leading HIV prevention programs in Togo, West Africa and in Harlem, New York, participating in a Fulbright teaching Fellowship in Spain, and creating a documentary on grassroots media during Apartheid in South Africa.