About a month ago, I watched Schindlers List for the first time. I knew the story about Oskar Schindler and what he did but had never seen the movie. In the end, Schindler feels guilty for not saving more people. Itzhak Stern’s response was powerful.
Oskar Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more.
Itzhak Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Oskar Schindler: If I’d made more money… I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just…
Itzhak Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
“There will be generations because of what you did”.
That night, I did something else I hadn’t done in a while. I rocked my two-year-old son to sleep. In his quiet room, as he fell asleep, Stern’s voice was in my head. Generations because of what Schindler and many more people did. My own sons and my cousins’ sons, the next generation of a survivor.
As we approach Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) I am thinking about those who survived with the help of non-Jews, like Oskar Schindler and Nicolas Winton. They are called Righteous Gentiles. Non-Jews who risked their own lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. At Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, over 11,000 ‘Righteous Gentiles’ are honored. Many are unknown, but they are all part of an extraordinary movement at a terrifying time.
“Throughout history, there are always people who risk their own lives to do doing the right thing”.
Despite the horrors of history, there are always people who risk their own lives to do the right thing. People that defy the status quo and stand up for what they believe in. Take action to do the right thing. Often when students ask me why I teach history, I say, “People lived through what we study. Their voices are not in our textbooks. I often imagine how different life would be for us if we lived during another time and had to go through what they went through.”
“Learn from the voices of those who lived it”.
My own children will never meet their great-grandfather and will most likely never meet a Holocaust survivor. They will know him and their other great grandparents by the stories my husband and I tell them. They will learn about history like we learn about most history. From textbooks in a classroom. My hope is that my children and the next generation of students, including my own students, learn from the voices of those who lived it. My hope is that they listen to those voices, learn valuable lessons and make the world a better place in honor of those who came before us.