Shoah - the importance of memory

In thinking about memory and the role it plays in our lives and our background, it is difficult to remove those things that profoundly impacted us and our families such as the Shoah.  In my case my father was bornin 1920 in Frankfurt am Mein and arrested on November 9, 1938 and sent to Buchenwald until he was released in 1939 when his sister obtained a visa for him to emigrate first to the UK and then onto the United States.

In November of 2021, my sisters and I were invited by the city of Frankfurt as their guests for a week long program.  It was extended to descendants of those religiously and politically persecuted during the time of the Nazi’s.  It was a remarkable week and the memories of my family and their history were brought out in full force.

A woman was given the task of researching our family history.  It resulted in her arranging a visit to Zeifilts, a small village where my grandmother was born.  Not only was she born there, but she was hidden there by her parents with her husband, my grandfather, during WW I as he was from Russia and an enemy alien.  We were taken to the cemetery outside of town where Jews from all over the region were buried and I visited the graves of my great great grandparents.

We visited the school Munster Schule that my father attended until he was 14 and then left for the Jewish school as life for Jewish students in other schools became unpleasant and unsafe.  We spoke with the students at Munster Schule and answered their questions.  I told them that because of the history of their country they had a special obligation to not let prejudice go unaddressed.  It may not be fair, I said, but it is part of their history just as the Shoah is part of mine.

We spent time with the Jewish community in Frankfurt which has grown to about 6,000 Jews.  The Jewish school has 800 students and the community has an active community center and a presence once again in Frankfurt.

This program exists because of the historic memory of the Shoah.  It represents an effort by the city to try and look squarely in the eye what happened.  There was no effort to ignore what was done by the then government.

The last night there was a program at the City Hall and a dinner afterward for the attendees.  Eighteen of us had participated in the program from a variety of places.  I was asked to speak at the event as a representative of those of us who had returned.  I tried to think about what was an appropriate way to address the occasion. After all, it had been a week of learning about my family and what they did and suffered and a time to get to know Germans who are today in the same places that those who persecuted my family were.

I told the audience that my father had died in 1993.  Since that time there were many events in my life that I think would have made my father proud and surprised had he lived to see them.  I pointed out that I had been the American Ambassador to Portugal under President Obama, had raised my sos and had four grandchildren.  But what I went on to say was that of all the things in my life that would have made my father proud, probably nothing would have been more significant than the fact that I was giving a speech in the Town Hall of Frankfurt 83 years to the day that he had been sent to a camp.  The idea of renewal and repentance, that we cherish.  The idea of Tikkun Olam that is our duty as Jews, were all together in this program and what it meant.

Memory of the Shoah must be preserved. However, we must acknowledge the efforts to make the world a better place by those who come form a heritage of genocide.  To deny the value of their efforts undermines everything we try to stans for as a righteous people.