March of the Living at Auschwitz 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Peter Andrews)
As the daughter of Holocaust survivors and a mother to a “third generation
survivor,” I was filled with anticipation at the thought of joining a group of
Americans who support the IDF soldiers (Friends of IDF) to meet in Poland a
group of Israeli soldiers to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day together in
Auschwitz last week.
As a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and the
impact it has on future generations, I was prepared for the unpredictable
feelings that would emerge while marching into Auschwitz behind a group of IDF
soldiers from different units, different ages, different ranks, holding the
Israeli flag high on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. We know that major
trauma such as the Holocaust leaves its scars upon subsequent generations. This
trauma continues its transmission into the second and third generation and
perhaps beyond. I recognize that in the shadow of trauma our emotional responses
might surprise us and was curious to see how we would experience this remarkable
I experienced the day in Auschwitz through the eyes of these Israeli
soldiers, some of whom carried in their pockets the names of their grandparents’
families, who had not survived the Holocaust.
There it was again, the
feelings of pain, loss and heritage, once removed from my own experience – just
as it was growing up. Then, I did not have the “right” to my own pain, as it was
always in the shadow of the pain my parents experienced during the Holocaust.
Their feelings, their hurt took precedence over mine. This time I was actually
in Auschwitz and again, experiencing it through someone else – but this time it
was the soldiers. I focused unintentionally on how they experienced it.
petite 23-year-old officer stopped our small group in front of Lager (barrack)
No. 12. She stood erect. While tears rolled down her face, she told us in a
strong voice that her 16-year-old grandmother spent the war in that
“Grandma,” she said, “you would be so proud to know that your
granddaughter is standing in front of the place you were imprisoned wearing the
uniform of an Israeli officer.”
The young woman stood there looking
vulnerable and strong. She stood there feeling the enormity of her grandmother’s
victimhood; at the same time she was trying to grasp her grandmother’s
resiliency. She was honoring her grandmother! This young soldier understood the
significance of the uniform she wore, a uniform that would enable her to protect
anyone else from being dehumanized. That overwhelmed me with pride. A witness in
uniform committed to honor humanity.
I was proud to be around this humble
yet proud group of young people. Being in Auschwitz gave them a profound sense
that lives cannot be taken for granted after the Holocaust. They have depth
beyond their years. They understood the meaning and privilege of wearing a
uniform and holding the Israeli flag.
Experiencing my pain while in
Auschwitz, once removed – through the IDF soldiers, felt healing. It transformed
the feeling of shame for being born into the legacy of victims into a sense of
This was an experience where profound sadness was overshadowed by
pride – pride that is not associated with power but with a sense of
It only took two generations from the victims who had no place
that wanted them, to a march into Auschwitz behind a group of Israeli soldiers.
A march of a united, cohesive group – despite their diverse heritage – Israelis,
a people with a homeland and a flag! Watching them march, knowing their
anticipation, and their yearning to honor the victims, filled my march behind
them into Auschwitz, where my grandmother after whom I am named perished, with
pride.The writer visited Poland last week as part of the FIDF 30th
Anniversary Delegation joined by IDF soldiers.