Over the last few days, I have seen pictures and read stories and watched videos of people who once lived on this earth. People who played and laughed. People with goals and dreams. People who worked hard to make a living and to make a life for themselves – only to have it all ripped away by the evils of man.
And as the 70th commemoration of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp rolls away, the memories of that time do not roll away with it. Because those faces that stared up in wonder from faded black and white photographs, and decaying film strips with scratches and white patches of overexposure, were my people and my family.
In America they speak about the Greatest Generation – those who grew up among the depression, but we too have our Great Generation who for many did not grow up, but remained forever young, and whose dreams did not die with them, but passed on to those who came after.
They were all my heroes, and who I am today is shaped from who they were yesterday. Because behind the hollow eyes and the broken bodies, there were souls. Souls that burnt bright. Souls that yearned to live, in a time where life itself was a scarcity. A time where a slice of bread was the difference between living and dying, and a potato was worth the combined fortunes of an entire country.
I think about the boys who once might have played with an old soccer ball in the streets behind their homes. I think about the girls who dressed up small dolls and held tea parties. I think about the children who never even got to play, or the babies whose time on this earth was as short as the taking of a small breath. I think of the fathers and the mothers who tried their hardest to look after their families and give them a good life. And I think about the grandparents who watched as the entire world they had known and grown up with was destroyed before their eyes. I also think about those whose faces will never be known, and whose photos along with their bodies were burnt in the fiery pits of hate.
I think of all of them and the fate that would have been my own, if not for my grandmother who at the tender age of 13, along with her brother just one year younger was forced to leave her small town of Ponevez and everything she had ever known to board a ship that traveled to the less dark continent of Africa. Two small children traveling alone across the world. She survived, not because of the world, but in spite of it. She lived, but her aunts and her uncles did not.
They are all my family – those who survived through the horrors and those they didn’t. And even as the last of those survivors begin to fade away and return to the heavens from whence they came, and those dark forces that tried to smother them before begin to gather again, I will stand here tonight and make a pledge.
My pledge is directed to you and to me and to the entire world.
To those who try to tell me these heroes who are my family didn't exist and their memories are false, I will stand before you as proof.
To those who want the memory of the Holocaust to disappear like the fading mist of a winter’s morning, I will hold up their testimonies for all to see.
And to those whose desires are filled with darkness and their hearts with evil and somehow want to revisit that period in history, I will fight you. And by doing so I will fight for my own survival just as those who went before me fought to stay alive - even as their last breaths of life slipped away.
So I pledge in this moment, of this day, in this time that no matter how rough the seas will get, and no matter how strong the storm will blow or how hard the rain will fall, and no matter how dark the night will become, I will be there, holding up a candle and honoring the memory of my family and my people.
The human body is frail, but the human spirit is not. And the spirit of their generation will live on through mine and forever more.