The Next Generation

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.



My Grandmother: She Enjoyed Running in the Snow

Today, Passover began at sundown. Today also would have been my grandmother’s 107th birthday.

My grandmother, Jean, was born on April 10, 1910 in Russia to Issi and Minnie Lieberman (nee Penasky). Her younger sister, Helen, was born in 1913. The family came to the United States in 1920 when my grandmother was only 10 years old. Her fondest memory of Russia was running in the snow.

Because she was so young when she and her family came to the United States, there are not many stories about her life in Russia. I could only imagine though that it might have been difficult. She was just four years old when World War I began and seven years old  during the Russian Revolution. Perhaps that is the reason the family left; I honestly don’t know.

Once the family was in United States, they settled in New York City. They had many cousins already living in the United States and the family was close. The family owned a horse stable in Manhattan (yes, you read that right). My grandmother and her sister attended school and the family became citizens in 1928.

Later, my grandmother met my grandfather, Arnold, through mutual friends. They dated for three months and were married on September 19, 1943. They had two children, a son and a daughter. Religion was very important to my grandparents. They were raised Jewish and raised their children Jewish. They kept a kosher home and their favorite holiday was Passover. My grandfather recited all the prayers in Hebrew.

My grandparents were married for 47 years; my grandmother passed away on December 12, 1990. I was only eight years old. A few years later in 1993, almost to the day, my parents adopted a boy from Thailand. In memory of my grandmother Jean he was named Jesse.

So tonight, as my mother an I lit the yahrzeit candles, we remembered her parents, aunt, and step-mother. All so special to our family, all so deeply missed.


My Grandfather: His Life and My History

As a child, I loved visiting my grandparents in Brooklyn. My grandfather was a very artistic man and I spent most of my time doing projects with him. We ate homemade soup my grandmother made and took walks on the dock. To this day, when I see a pigeon I’ll run and chase it, just like I did when I was younger to make my grandparents smile. I did not get much time with my grandmother Jean; she passed away when I was just 8 years old. My grandfather, Arnold, passed away in December 2003 at the age of 90. He was a wonderful man and survived the Holocaust.

If my mother did not tell me what little she knew, I would never have known that he did. He never spoke about it. Neither did his brother, also a survivor. I only have a little information he told me in 2000 shortly before he passed away.  In high school, I traveled to Europe. My grandfather was happy that I had the chance to visit Germany, even if it was only for a few days. While there, we visited Dachau. My mother made me take out the pictures of Dachau when I showed my grandfather the photo album of my trip and told me not to tell him I was there. She didn’t want to upset him.

My grandfather was born on October 1, 1913 in Berlin, Germany to Josef (January 23, 1880 – 1943) and Tauba (April 18, 1885 – 1943), the second of five children. His parents and older sister, Fay (whom I am named after), were born in Poland. They had moved to Germany before my grandfather was born but kept their Polish citizenship. His younger sister and brothers were also born in Germany.

Although the family was poor, his family was close. They had many friends and enjoyed their time together. My great-grand father, Josef, was a tailor; my great-grandmother, Tauba, was a wig maker. My grandfather attended a Jewish school for boys from 1919 – 1928. He was active in sports and belonged to a Jewish sports club. He enjoyed running and boxing. After finishing school, he worked in a machine shop as a machinist and then became a furrier. He worked as a furrier in Germany until 1938.

As Polish Jews living in Germany, they decided to stay during World War II. In 1938, things turned in Germany. Many Jews fled Germany and because my grandfather was  machinist, he was able to escape. He left for Bogota, Columbia by himself and stayed there by himself until 1940. He then migrated to the United States to live with his sister, Fay, who was married and living in New York. My grandfather later married and had two children.

By 1937, his sister Fay was already married. She was able to leave Germany with the help of friends already living in the United States. Nathan was my grandfather’s youngest brother. He hitchhiked to Italy, Greece, Turkey, and then Israel which was under Great Britain’s rule. Nathan came to the United States in 1951. He married in 1953 and also had two children.

My grandfather, his sister Fay, and brother Nathan were the only ones to survive. His parents, sister Lena (September 1915 – 1943) and brother Eric (October 1911 – 1943) died in 1943. I’ve been told they were at Auschwitz. Many of their records and belongings were destroyed. I am still doing research to learn more about their lives before, during and after the war. Like my grandfather, Nathan did not speak about his life before the War. His son said it was a way to protect himself and his family from the horrors they endured.

April is Genocide Awareness Month and April 24 is Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day). For me, it is more than the six million Jews killed. It is for all who lived during that time period. All who escaped. All who risked their own life to hide, protect, and help others escape. All who liberated the camps. All who survived and gave birth to the next generation, and the next. My older son is named after my husband’s grandfather who served in World War II but is also the name of my great-grandfather. Even though my mother and I never met him, he is remembered. My youngest son looks more like a Johnson, but he has the bluest eyes and light hair just like my grandfather Arnold, the man he is named after. In my children, live on the memory of our grandparents and my children will carry on the next chapter of our history.

I hope our grandparents can see the joy my boys bring our family and how deeply they are missed because we remember them every day.