Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a time to remember the people who were lost during those dark days and to keep the horror fresh in our minds so as to never allow it to happen again. Growing up, we were reminded often throughout our Jewish education to never forget.
The terrifying details of the Holocaust are so evil that it is hard to believe that one human could do these things to another human, much less on such a large scale. My grandparents luckily never had to live in a concentration camp. Their parents and siblings never had to either. That being said, both sides of my family had many, many losses. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. People who were taken from them because of hate.
My Oma grew up in a small town in Germany. Her first memory of antisemitism happened not long after Hitler came into power. She went with friends to go swimming, only to find a sign on the gate of the pool that said "No Jews". Not long after that, one of her uncles came to visit from New York. He argued vehemently with her father and forced them to move to America with him. Her father thought it was ridiculous and that the whole thing would blow over, but luckily he went anyways. My Oma was 9 when she moved to Chicago with her parents and sister. I am so grateful that they escaped Germany when they did, before it became more difficult to get a visa.
She has lived in Chicago for the rest of her life. I can not say enough about how incredible she is! We have always been very close. Growing up, I would get to spend weekends with her at her apartment on the 22nd floor of the high rise she lived in. I am so grateful that Gavin and Olivia get to spend time with one of my favorite people.
On Kristallnacht, he hid with his mother and sister in their apartment. His father never made it home that night. He was arrested leaving work and taken to the police department. Luckily for all of us, he knew one of the police officers from having been in the army together, so he was released instead of being transported to a concentration camp. He didn't make it home until morning, so my grandpa spent the whole night thinking his dad was gone.
My Grandpa started applying for visas to leave the country. His sister found a position as a maid in England and was able to get out. Eventually he was able to leave the country on the Kindertransport, a train that took children 17 and under to safety in England. As good as it felt to escape, he had to leave his parents behind not knowing when, or even if, he would see them again.
After awhile, visas came through for him and his sister to immigrate to America. They moved to Chicago and started working to make money to pay for his parents' boat passage. Finally their visas came through and the whole family was reunited in Chicago.
After only about a year in America, he was drafted and sent back over to Europe to fight. The stories he has about the war years are riveting. To this day he is haunted by nightmares because of the atrocities he witnessed. After liberation, he stayed in Europe and helped to round up war criminals that would be taken to the Nuremberg trials.
When he came back to Chicago, he became a very successful business owner. Since then he has worked hard and played harder. Charisma oozes out of him and he is so much fun to be around. Although he has lived in Florida my whole life, I have still always felt very close to him.
In the past few years I have started the process of interviewing him about his life story. The things that he has been through in his life, both positive and negative, are so unique and uncommon that I feel it is an important story to share. I look forward to compiling the results of our interviews into a book about him.
Both of my grandparent's stories are important to tell. My Oma is 91 and my Grandpa is 92. Their stories document a piece of history that we must never forget.
Thanks for letting me share,