Holocaust Remembrance Day holds special meaning for Shimon and Yair Zuckerman.The brother lieutenant-colonels were born to survivors who drilled the importance of optimism and hope into their children from an early age.
Shimon and Yair's mother was born to a middle-class Belgian family in 1941. The credit for instilling them with a sense of pride and need to serve their country, they told The Jerusalem Post, goes to their mother and grandmother, both of whom survived the Holocaust.“Our grandmother always said she beat Mengele during the Holocaust,” Shimon said.“I was a hero in Auschwitz so you would be able to be a hero in Israel. I fought in Auschwitz for you so you would be able to fight in Israel for me. We serve the country and protect the citizens of Israel with pride,” he quoted his grandmother as having said.“The army is one of the only places where every citizen of this country gives back,” added Yair, “even if sometimes it means our lives.”
When the war in Europe broke out, the mother and grandmother were hidden with a non-Jewish family by a grandfather, who was later murdered by the Nazis. After the money to pay the family to hide them ran out, they were reported to the Nazis.The grandmother was sent to Auschwitz and the mother to a German “orphanage,” from which every few weeks children were sent to death camps.The grandmother was liberated by the Americans at the age of 24, after surviving a year-and-a-half in Auschwitz and a death march to Birkenau.She was later reunited with her daughter, Shimon’s and Yair’s mother, who was rescued by the orphanage cook, a partisan.“She was the youngest in the orphanage, that’s why the cook chose her,” Shimon said.According to Shimon, they had always wanted to get to Israel and build the country.“That’s what saved them and that’s what drove them to survive,” he said. That outlook toward the future allowed them to realize that even “when there are hard times, you don’t have to get to a black place. You need take the negativity and remember that you have future and build it,” he added.“Those who don’t remember have to rebuild themselves every day when they wake,” Yair said. “You can choose to forget the past, but our grandparents chose to wake up every morning and remember what happened so that they could make a difference.”