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A Holocaust survivor's daughter visits Poland

A Holocaust Survivor's Daughter Visits Poland

Editor’s Note — Bonnie Adler is usually a reporter in addition to freelance writer living in Westport, CT. Her son works at CNN.

A Holocaust Survivor's Daughter Visits Poland

(CNN) — Long before I could speak of the idea, I knew my mother had blue numbers on the soft skin of her inside forearm. My father had a similar stamp, as did my aunt in addition to uncle. I understood they were very happy in our tiny family circle, yet once upon a time, in a past I did not comprehend, they were not.

A Holocaust Survivor's Daughter Visits Poland

They spared us their separate tragic stories for as long as they could, yet my sisters in addition to I eventually came to know the bare-bones facts they shared: Parents dead, siblings lost, my father’s brother missing, never found.

A Holocaust Survivor's Daughter Visits Poland

I am no different than many children of Holocaust survivors. We share a common denominator. We are mostly recipients of overwhelming love born out of loss in addition to survival guilt. in addition to we share a responsibility to remember in addition to honor those we love in addition to the memory of those they lost.

A Holocaust Survivor's Daughter Visits Poland

So when an email came, with information in which for the 1st time there was to be an official ceremony acknowledging the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto inside city of Radom, Poland, my two sisters in addition to I were gripped by a primal reaction.

A Holocaust Survivor's Daughter Visits Poland

A Holocaust Survivor's Daughter Visits Poland

Emotional storm

We knew in which 30,000 Jews were killed at in which time, including much of our family. We wanted to participate in in which ceremony; to go to the city of their birth, in addition to honor the memories of our uncles in addition to aunts in addition to grandmothers in addition to grandfathers who had been the victims of genocide.

We wanted to see their homes, their schools, their stores in addition to their synagogues, or whatever remained of them, to fill inside many blanks of our family history, to colour inside sketchy stories we had been raised with.

We had no idea how we would likely weather in which emotional storm, yet our indecision evaporated when we learned in which three of our children wanted to share the experience with us. They were all adults: my two nieces, aged 37 in addition to 18, in addition to my son, 31. One generation after us, they had all been steeped in our family history in addition to blessed by the unconditional love in addition to warmth of their grandparents.

Our mother in addition to their grandmother, Dinah Horn had just passed away at the age of 87, in addition to they were still mourning her loss. Our father, Joseph Horn, had passed away 20 years before her, yet his presence was in addition to remained larger than life. Before he died he wrote a compelling memoir about his experiences as a young boy in wartime, “Mark the idea which has a Stone.” the idea was a tale of bravery in addition to serendipity in addition to an indictment of the evil to which he was subjected for years. Besides his children, he considered the book one of his proudest achievements.

Heroic sacrifices

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943 led to brutal reprisals via the Nazis.

We were all bound by love for each various other, in addition to the certain belief in which if our parents in addition to grandparents were still alive, they would likely appreciate our willingness to take in which trip to bear witness to the killing fields of their youth. in addition to so we committed to join a group of survivors’ children in Radom for the commemoration.

To get to Radom, we had to begin in Warsaw.

In 1942, more than 300,000 Jews were taken via their homes in Warsaw, forced into ghettos in addition to ultimately gassed at the Treblinka death camp in a period of roughly two months.

Our guide showed us the remains of the once-vibrant community. We started off in a mossy, deteriorated Jewish cemetery filled with tombstones of many who died before WWII. Somber plaques in addition to heart-wrenching poetry also bore witness to the elimination of the Jewish population of Warsaw.

We heard of heroes who sacrificed their lives rather than collaborate with Nazis. We saw the few remaining brick walls of the Warsaw ghetto topped with fragments of barbed wire, in addition to the “umschlagplatz” or the departure point, where Warsaw Jews were forced to board cattle cars to Treblinka.

We heard the story of the famed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 in which a ragtag army of untrained Jewish men in addition to women staged an unheard of revolt against the Nazis, surprising in addition to killing many of their enemies against all odds. in which uprising led to their death in addition to the leveling of much of the city by the Nazis in a furious response.

Permanent outsiders

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

Within the confines of the old Warsaw ghetto is usually the fresh Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a starkly modern edifice built in 2013. Its copper in addition to glass architectural lines contrast sharply with the nearby forlorn buildings of the old Warsaw Ghetto.

Here one can learn the 1,000 year history of Jewish life in Poland via an astonishing collection of interactive exhibits. Polish kings had once offered Jews a haven in their country, spurring migration via all over Europe.

However, over time, Jews were denounced by the influential Catholic Church, inciting the wrath of devout Poles. Jews always lived in their country as outsiders. They were Polish Jews, never Jewish Poles.

Radom was even more worn-out than Warsaw.

Our hotel was old, hot in addition to uninviting. We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into, yet gamely pressed on to meet a tiny group of families, mostly Americans, who had made the pilgrimage for reasons similar to our own. The group was oddly knit yet congenial.

After a traditional Shabbat dinner with our fresh acquaintances, many of us strolled down the broad main street.

At first, the idea seemed alive in addition to bustling, yet almost immediately, we realized many of the men were drunk, in addition to there were several unexpected incidents of young men shouting menacingly at us in Polish. Motorcycles roared by us, too close for comfort.

Suddenly we felt eerily isolated, different not because we were Americans, yet because we were Jews. Were we paranoid? the idea was impossible to tell.

‘A beautiful, beautiful girl’

Nevertheless, we went on to locate my mother’s corner apartment on the most prominent street in Radom, which we had always laughingly referred to as the Fifth Avenue of Radom. Her comfortable home had literally been sliced in half by the Nazis when they created the Radom ghetto. One side of the apartment was inside Jewish ghetto. The whole family was moved to in which side, in addition to the various other side of the apartment was taken away by the Nazis in addition to used to house German soldiers.

Looking up at the once-proud building, my son said, “in which is usually what we came to see.” yet the idea was no longer what the idea once was. Indeed, in which home had been stolen via my mother’s family. After the war, there was no thought of reclamation. Surviving Jews who returned to their homes were often beaten in addition to run out of town. In some cases, they were even killed.

Among our group was one survivor via Radom, a spry in addition to energetic 91-year-old man named Sol Birenbaum. His remarkable determination to teach Polish youth about the history of the Jews during the war had brought him via his home in fresh Jersey to Radom more than once over the past 15 years. Birenbaum connected with some sympathetic local leaders in addition to an educational group called Forum for Dialog, which exposed Polish students to personal stories of Jewish survivors. Most of them had no idea what had happened during the war.

Birenbaum had been a childhood friend of my father’s. His unexpected kind words about my father’s sister, (“I loved her,” he said. “She was a beautiful, beautiful girl.”) for whom I was named in addition to about whom we knew so little, were jarring. Her name was Blima, in addition to my name is usually Bonnie, inside Jewish tradition of naming a child after a deceased relative by taking the first letter of their name.

Who was Blima? What might have been had she lived? Did any of us look like her, share her strengths? Her weaknesses? My father rarely spoke of her, only said he was alive because of her. Another piece of the family puzzle, lost.

By the time the official ceremony we had come all in which way for began, we realized the idea was all too little too late.

Unimaginable cruelty

A doctor, center, with the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army, walks which has a group of survivors at the entrance to the newly liberated Auschwitz I concentration camp in January 1945. The Red Army liberated the camp on January 27, 1945. Above the gate is usually the motto “Arbeit macht frei,” which translates to “Work sets you free.”

In a swell of emotion, we left Radom for Krakow. Our hotel was situated inside old Jewish quarter, a quick walk via the ancient synagogue in addition to many Jewish-style restaurants crowded with sightseers. Although the area in addition to the restaurants were touristy, we did not mind; the idea felt strangely comfortable. We walked amongst the summer crowds to see the famed Palace in addition to Town Square with little enthusiasm. Like the Jews in Poland before us, we understood in which in which was not our history.

The most infamous death camp in history is usually located in Oswiecen, about an hour via Krakow. We arrived by 9 a.m., in addition to the place was already packed with tour buses in addition to tourists via all over the globe. Our guide, Wojchek, greeted us.

the idea’s not an easy task to visit Auschwitz, to walk through the infamous gate bearing the ominous words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work will make you free), in addition to plunge into a world of unimaginable cruelty.

The concentration camp is usually divided into two sections, Auschwitz I in addition to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. At Auschwitz I are many tiny red brick buildings in which were used for administration in addition to torture. At Birkenau one sees the train tracks where cattle cars filled with people finally stopped in addition to victims disembarked, most headed for oblivion, yet some selected for work details.

One can visit a barrack, learn of horrendously overcrowded in addition to inhumane conditions, in addition to ultimately, see the remains of the crematoria which, along with the gas chambers, were blown up by the Nazis as the Allies invaded in a futile attempt to destroy evidence of their crimes.

Very little of the barracks remain, yet the brick foundations are still there in addition to we were able to find the barrack my father lived in while he stayed in in which awful place. His detail worked on the arrival ramp in Auschwitz, where he was a witness to the murder of countless Hungarian Jews. In all, the Nazis killed a million people in Auschwitz via all over Europe, most of them Jews.

My mother’s story remains unknown. She was at Auschwitz only long enough to be tattooed, in addition to was never able to describe her experience there. Her daughters asked once or twice, got no information various other than, “I don’t remember.”

Bludgeoned by what we were seeing in addition to hearing, the idea was hard to react until we entered one building in which we heard the plaintive sound of a violin in addition to faced a black wall in which bore the word, Shoah, which means Holocaust in Hebrew.

The music penetrated each of us like an arrow to the soul. We each began to cry, at times uncontrollably, under the spell of the music. We entered another room with old-fashioned black in addition to white 8-millimeter film of what life was like before the war for the Jews of Poland.

We saw a toddler dancing along a shoreline, families gathering for dinner. We entered another room to find a structure, like an oversized book, which held thousands of sheaves of oversized white parchment.

Each sheet held the typed names of those who had perished inside Holocaust. We found our mother’s mother in addition to father, in addition to her brother in addition to the city of their origin. We found my father’s whole family except for him. The book in addition to its pages went on seemingly forever in addition to bore witness to those who hoped their deaths would likely not go unnoticed, despite the fact in which they had no graves.

We left, exhausted, ready to go back to our hotel, in addition to more than in which, ready to go back to the United States, which we appreciated more than ever.

My father always said, “Travel is usually the most overrated word inside English language.” yet not in which kind, where you experience your own heritage, in addition to feel ever more appreciative of the life you have in addition to the people you love.

A Holocaust survivor's daughter visits Poland