FIDF 30th anniversary delegation: My experience in Poland

I experienced the day in Auschwitz through the eyes of Israeli soldiers. There it was again, the feelings of pain, loss and heritage.

By JUDITH KELLNER
May 21, 2012 21:58
3 minute read.
March of the Living at Auschwitz

March of the Living at Auschwitz 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Peter Andrews)

 
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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 day.

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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.

A 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 barrack.

“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.

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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 pride.

This was an experience where profound sadness was overshadowed by pride – pride that is not associated with power but with a sense of humility.

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.

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