I love this photo. It’s evidence of the only meeting between my first child, A, and my maternal grandmother, my Bobie Celia. A, her third great-grandchild, was 6 weeks old at the time, and he clearly was not so impressed by what would turn out to be a significant moment in both of their lives. Two months later, my Bobie would die after a heart attack, at age 82.
Of course, my son doesn’t remember this meeting. Now 7 years old, he has no understanding of who his great-grandparents on this side of the family were. More importantly, he has no idea of their story—how they survived the Holocaust, how they coped with losing almost their entire families, how they spent four years in a displaced persons camp after the war, and how they moved to the US a month before my mother—my son’s grandmother—was born and rebuilt their lives.
Though I learned my grandparents’ story from a very early age, I think it’s too early to share it with my children. For me, it was critical information—since I spent time with and loved my grandparents, I needed to understand things like where my Hebrew name came from (my Bobie’s sister Raizel, killed at age 14), or why my Bobie freaked out if we tried to scrape leftover food off our plates into the garbage, or why my Zaidy had a habit of collecting tzotchkes from neighbors’ trash cans and bringing them home for display—showcasing his survivor mentality of letting nothing go to waste.
For A, who doesn’t know them, this will probably seem like ancient family history. And that scares me. Because being the grandchild of Holocaust survivors was one of the most important aspects of my childhood—it connected me deeply to my family and to Judaism. I haven’t yet figured out how to teach A his family history in a way that he can understand, and in a way that will help him build the same connections that I have.
I’m sure this is a struggle a lot of parents my generation are facing. Our own children are growing up at the same time we’re losing our fundamental connection to the Holocaust, the survivors themselves. Their legacies are nowhere as apparent as in their great-grandchildren. I think of my grandparents every time my son asks a question about Judaism, when he leads the Four Questions during a seder, when he learns a new Hebrew word. And yet it’s hard to know how to make survivors’ stories relevant to the great-grandchildren of survivors without the first-hand witnesses here.
Maybe we can start by celebrating them. This Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day—marked this year on May 5—Kveller is honoring Holocaust survivors, and their continuing legacy, by collecting photos of Holocaust survivors and their great-grandchildren. If you are the grandchild of survivors, and, like me, lucky enough to have a photo of your child with your grandparent (or your great aunt, uncle, or other survivors in your extended family), please share it. We’ll showcase these photos next week to remember and celebrate the survivors in our families.
Were they alive today, my grandparents would have seven great-grandchildren, ranging from age 10 months to age 11, with two more on the way this summer, all from their first five grandchildren. They have six other grandchildren without kids yet, who will likely more than double that number in the years and decades to come. It’s a whole lot of naches (pride and joy) for one family whose forebears survived the unimaginable. Let’s see some of your naches, too.
Share your photos by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org (please put “Holocaust survivor photo” in the subject) or posting them on our Facebook wall.