In every life, in every culture, there are events and stories which become so deeply ingrained in an individual personality or a societal memory that they simply cannot be left behind.
For the Jews, there are so many. Thousands of years of history filled with far too many national tragedies.
All my life I have been exposed to these tragedies, as well as the triumphs, of the Jewish narrative. Some were so far away, so long ago, that I could never connect to them, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn't imagine the suffering. I couldn't realize the people. They were stuck as characters on paper. Characters I didn't know, couldn't relate to.
But when it comes to the Holocaust, the most glaring blight of the 20th century, I had the opportunity to hear the stories from the survivors themselves. They would come to our school, show us pictures, show us scars, tattoos, and tears that will never fade away.
I used to sit and wonder, "If the Nazis came to get me, would I be a survivor, or would I have been one of those skeletal figures piled on trucks, rotting in pits, or burning in the ovens?"
I'm only 2 generations away from those children who were herded like cattle into train cars. I have seen those faces with my own eyes, though they were aged. It has always astounded me how NORMAL they were. These men and women who lost everything as children, grew up with the clear memories of the most wretched violence, and yet they seem so sane, so strong, so loving.
As the last survivors are getting older and disappearing from our world, I wonder how the Holocaust will seem to my children. With they be able to feel it? Will they remember it and connect to it as a tangible tragedy in recent history, with real people, or will it seem to them like those distant tales of storybook characters?
We say we will never forget, and I believe that to be true. We have not forgotten any of our national tragedies. But as time goes on, it becomes harder and harder to really...remember. Everything grows fuzzy, loses color and feel.
And when the Holocaust becomes just another story in the Jewish narrative, when there is no one left to really remember, what suffering will we have to endure then to remind us who we are?