The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum owns the original photograph that I donated to the collection when the Museum first opened. It is a picture of me when I was around three years old. My father and I are walking across the bridge over the Nahe River in Bad Kreuznach, the town where I was born in Germany. The time is probably just before the Nazis and Hitler came into power. My father is young and handsome, wearing a double breasted pinstripe suit with a white handkerchief in his breast pocket. It looks like he has a newspaper casually folded in his jacket pocket. He is smiling and his head is slightly bent towards me. He seems to be proud walking with his little daughter garbed in her beautiful white dress, embroidered with vibrant flowers. What makes me happy now, looking at this picture, is that he is holding my hand, and that I am walking confidently into whatever is going to happen to me in the future.
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Read reflections and testimonies written by Holocaust survivors in their own words.
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I am grateful to the Museum’s staff for providing me opportunities to share and participate in our various programs. These programs make me feel that my message is important enough to pass on to people all over the world. I am grateful that I am healthy in mind and body and can meet the challenges that are asked of me. I feel vital and significant because I can contribute to the Museum’s mission, which is “working to keep Holocaust memory alive while inspiring citizens and leaders to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity in our constantly changing world.”
The smiling children sitting on the well-worn step are my brother Joe and me. We look happy because our mother is in the house about to have our baby brother. We know nothing about her not being able to go to the hospital because we are Jewish. The battered wooden door behind us is dense and solid, so we cannot hear any noises coming from the inside. When new, this door must have been especially elegant because of the intricate paneling that is embossed on its lower part. The photo was taken 84 years ago.
The ocean carries my boat to a new land. I stand at the railing to see the symbol of freedom and democracy.
Six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. The immensity of this number does not reveal who these people were and does not give meaning to the lives they lived. The number will never tell the full story of what has been lost. All those people who were killed, including most of my relatives, were important. They had all been busy living lives and contributing to society. Any number of their children and grandchildren could have become great scientists, doctors, lawyers, chefs, actors, poets, writers, dancers, engineers, athletes, teachers, and so much more. The loss to humanity is incomprehensible.
Masha Gessen, a Russian American journalist and author, has been an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin. Gessen has called what passes as news in Russia as “manufactured reality,” which refers to the daily stories covered by state-controlled media. Among Putin’s distortions are his argument that Ukraine is not a nation, that Ukrainians are not a people, and that the invasion and killing of civilians is not a war but a “special military operation.” The stated aim of Putin’s action was to “demilitarize and denazify” a country of 40 million people, which is led by a Jewish president who was elected democratically by 70 percent of the population. The ousted head of the leading Russian public opinion research organization states that current Russian propaganda is full of “lies and hatred on the fantastical scale.”
I finished reviewing the Washington Post’s front page and the sports section when a headline in the obituaries on January 17, 2022, caught my interest. “Barrier-breaking Tuskegee Airman flew combat missions in three wars.” The story was about retired Air Force Colonel Charles McGee, who lived until the age of 102. After retirement, he was promoted to Brigadier General.
I was seven years old in 1943 when my father disappeared. It was the fourth year of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, and he was not at home. I kept asking my mother about my father, and her standard reply became, “Don’t worry—he is on a business trip and will be back as soon as he can.” At first, I believed her, but I wanted a fuller explanation. I missed my father terribly, but my mother never told me that he was assigned to a hard labor battalion or, later in 1944, that he was sent to Theresienstadt. She could not tell me the truth.
In August 2008, my son Mike and I traveled to Prague to see my birthplace, explore the city, and pay our respects to Sofie, my grandmother. First, we explored the world of Bohemian beer. Mike wondered whether Josef Stein, Mike’s great-grandfather, played a role in selling hops, yeast, and barley to brewers in Eastern Europe? Mike often recreated historic beers, and he was eager to learn if Josef had any beer-brewing experiences.
My dad and I moved briskly toward the Sudbahnhof railroad station in Vienna. We entered the large concourse with its five platforms, large bow windows, and very high ceiling of wooden beams. It was also the home of countless pigeons flying at will throughout the building.