A few weeks ago, my mother took a long trip to Israel to attend a conference of Holocaust Child Survivors. She wrote a diary of her trip and it was, in a slightly edited form (omitting most of the recounts of family gatherings), published in the Serbian newspaper Danas (Today) in its popular weekend column. If you click on the link, you can read the diary in Serbian language. She then translated her travelogue into English and asked me to publish it here, on my blog, for everyone to see. I will do this in a few installments, starting with the first one today and the rest will appear here over the next few days.
About 40 members of our family perished in the Holocaust. My mother is one of the few lucky survivors. She was taped by the Spielberg's Shoah foundation, telling her story (I think all the tapes are now deposited in the Holocaust Museum in NYC).
She also wrote her story and it appeared in the first volume of the series "Mi Smo Preziveli" (We Survived), published both in Serbian and in English by the Jewish Museum and the Jewish Council of Belgrade. The books are collections of war-time memories by the Holocaust survivors from the Balkans. The fifth volume (in Serbian language) is in preparation, and the third volume is about to be released in the English translation. The book is not available online for ordering, but if you e-mail the museum (email@example.com), they will tell you how you can obtain a copy for yourself. All the accounts are riveting.
So, here is the first day of my Mom's trip, and come back for more over the next few days:
Lights of Yad Vashem
Thursday, November 8th
A convoy of buses was waiting in front of the Renaissance hotel in Jerusalem to take 800 participants of this year's International Conference of Holocaust Child Survivors. This is the 19th annual Conference "Together in Israel" of the Federation.
Today we are visiting The Memorial Museum Yad Vashem. We are all aware that this will not be an easy and pleasant visit. We knew it would be hard, touching and moving.
Yad Vashem is the First Memorial Center of such kind and was open in 1953. Today, there are 250 such places all over the world. We are visiting the modern part opened in 2005. We are divided into groups and got an excellent guide. The guides are all volunteers, enthusiasts and well acquainted not only with the displays but also with all the important events. It was a short time and we could not see everything, but the experienced guide knew how to point out the most impressive and most significant and moving things. She drew our attention to the most striking photos, testimonies and objects.
The Museum came into being to remember the six million killed Jews in the Holocaust. What has remained? Testimonies of the survivors, objects and stuff people took with them leaving their homes - one could see toys, models of gas chambers, original cobblestone and rails from the Warsaw Ghetto, parts of the railway wagons the Germans used to take hundreds of thousand women, children and old men to places of death. Many remember the days spent in camps and long journeys is such wagons.
In the Hall of Names, the victims got their identity: faces and voices. Thousands of photos are placed in the dome and three million names are inscribed. The photos reflect themselves in a deep well and symbolize another three million victims whose names remain unknown.
The strongest impression for me was an underground hall in complete darkness. We were holding our hands on rails next to the wall to be able to move. We were looking up. Little lamps glittered twinkled like stars - some bigger, others smaller. All the time we were listening to a voice pronouncing a name, the age of a killed child. Shiny lamps reflected in the water deep bellow. What are those lights? Are they souls of innocent children?
I once, decades ago, read something about the Holocaust that has stuck with me all this time: "There's a certain dignity in surviving."
I don't even remember what kind of book or article it was, much less who said that, but I have never forgotten it. I do not mean to compare my tribulations to those of Holocaust survivors, but that little sentence has indeed seen me through some bleak times. It's not only a reminder that others have survived worse, though that can be useful. The idea, the fact, in and of itself, is a kind of mental bedrock -- a place to stand. There's no such thing as "merely surviving" -- to survive brings its own triumph and dignity.