Always Remember, Never Forget: The Holocaust and my grandmother's gift of living memory

This week, my grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, travelled from Israel to attend the United Nation’s tenth annual Holocaust Commemoration.

I was excited and a bit nervous knowing that my class at Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan was also invited to participate in the U.N.’s yearly memorial ceremony marking the liberation of Auschwitz.

She spoke quietly and confidently to me around the family table. And I understood she was sharing a gift of living memory that I would never forget.

My dad happens to work for the U.N. So together, we would be representing three generations of a Holocaust family who would be present that day in the great U.N. General Assembly Hall.

She spoke quietly and confidently to me around the family table. And I understood she was sharing a gift of living memory that I would never forget.

I always knew my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. This week, I learned more.

For the first time, my grandmother told me details about her experience. There was something in her manner that told me not to be afraid to listen.

Prior to the ceremony, she spoke quietly and confidently to me around the family table. And I understood she was sharing a gift of living memory that I would never forget.

Grandmother explained she was two-years-old when the Nazis reached Belgium in 1940. She had two siblings: her younger sister, Helen, who was only half a year old when the Nazis reached Belgium, and her older brother, Charles, who was five.

Immediately after the Nazis invaded Belgium her family fled to France. Three years after they arrived in France the Nazis summoned all the males; they took her father, Leon Hirsch, and her uncle, Elicq to a transit camp called Drancy.

My grandmother showed me the fading postcard she kept all these year that her father sent to her from Drancy (see photo above). This was the last time they ever heard from him. From Drancy he was taken with his brother and many other Jews to Auschwitz.

Uncle Elicq jumped out of the transport trains and died.

Her father was sent to Auschwitz: He and 45 of our family members were gassed there.

My grandmother, her mother, her grandmother, and her two siblings had to hide in villages and forests to survive. My grandmother said that her most vivid memory was of staring out the window while her father was taken away by the gendarmerie.

What strikes me most is that people like my grandmother, who survived such a horrid event as the Holocaust, deserve a full, happy, and fulfilling life. That way, when they look back at their lives they will not ask God, “What was the point in giving me this life only to be let down?” I want them to think, “Thank you God, for giving me the best life I could have ever had!”

In this sense, the U.N.’s Holocaust Commemoration ceremony was an immensely educational and important event.

I heard a first-hand account of what it was like to be a "Mengele twin" from Jona Laks.

I understood that for a survivor to be able to tell the world what really happened during the Holocaust, from the platform of the world body, and to show by their very presence that they had rebuilt productive, meaningful lives, is a triumph for all humankind.

Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel delivered a speech that inspired me, saying that we must care not only for the Jews who were affected by the Holocaust but for everybody who is similarly affected by prejudice and intolerance in all places around the world, for that is the true mission of the U.N.

There are people who will say that the Holocaust is too depressing to be taught to students my age.

I disagree.

Attending the U.N. Holocaust Commemoration ceremony has made me a better person.

For those who survived the Holocaust the fear of someone knocking on your door and taking away your loved ones will never go away, but ceremonies like the one held at the U.N. are what help everyone realize that all of us have a responsibility to ensure that events like the Holocaust never happen again to anyone, anywhere… and that we should always remember the people who fought for us and the people who perished.

The millions who were killed will never be forgotten. And as Holocaust survivor and author Primo Levi wrote: “ It happened, therefore it can happen again.”

Although the past cannot be changed, the future is, and will always be, in our hands to ensure a world that is safe for all people.