The Day My Family Was Murdered

On this day, 69 years ago, my family was murdered.

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the third month of the lunar calendar, on the first day of the month, my mother, her parents and sisters arrived at Auschwitz. The date was May 20, 1944, on the solar calendar.

They were taken from their small village, Fekete Ordo in Czechoslovakia near the Ukranian border, along with all the other Jews who lived there. They were herded into cattle cars for five days of intolerable conditions to their final destination.

For more than six decades, my mother has repeated the story of this five-day journey and those last moments that she saw her parents as she was separated from them. She would methodically recount The Journey, first to fellow Survivors, then to my brother Yossi and me, then to her grandchildren, and to all who would listen.

Now in her frail years, my mother is unable to recount the story, and so renders it her children’s obligation to do so.

One wonders: When is enough, enough?

Should we keep retelling these stories?

Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to focus on the present and the future?

Are today’s children truly interested in this dark history?

Or the most difficult question of all: Should we forgive the Nazis after all these years?

It is, of course, up to every individual to decide when to offer forgiveness. A person who was a victim of an innocuous prank or a terrible affront has to contend with his own thoughts and feelings about the incident. Others can offer advice, but only the victim himself can ultimately decide.

My mother’s last moments with her parents was standing on the infamous line before Dr. Josef Mengele who signaled people to the right or to the left, separating those who would live from those who were headed toward their death. She and her two sisters were sent to the right while her parents were sent to the left, to the crematorium. Her father’s last words to his daughters were, “Children, try to keep kosher.” Words never forgotten.

Facing death, never to see his children again, my grandfather’s devotion to his daughters was expressed as his message of eternal devotion to Hashem. He reminded them that by keeping kosher, not even death can separate us from who we are. Hurt us, kill us, make us victims — but you can never obliterate our Jewish souls.

Over the last seven decades, the German people have apologized for the unspeakable atrocities committed in Auschwitz and all they symbolize. Even denying the Holocaust is a crime in Germany today. Yet, the Nazis who perpetrated these atrocities against humanity never apologized, nor have their complicit compatriot murderers in Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, France.

No, it is neither the time to forgive the Nazis, nor to stop recounting the story. When one’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and scores of extended family members are murdered, one cannot forget. Thirty-five children in my mother’s immediate and extended family were murdered, translating into nieces, nephews and cousins who would have been in their seventies today and enjoying their own children and grandchildren.

The impact of the Holocaust on my family, on the Jewish people, is the equivalent of September 11 being repeated 2,000 times. Is anyone forgetting? Has anyone forgiven?

My mother, may she live and be well, is the last survivor of her family. She is the last remaining Hersh. She has thankfully lived 69 more years than Hitler so meticulously planned. In raising our family to know our past as victims, she has given us immeasurable strength for the present and future as resilient survivors. In the many times I’ve heard my mother tell the story, she has never said we forgive or forget — rather the opposite. The retelling of the story and keeping it alive is her admonishment.

Teach the children! It is our people’s history. Encourage them to listen to one personal story to carry with them. Encourage them to chronicle the stories of  survivors. Encourage them to research, learn, and reconnect the link in the chain of Jewish generations which the Nazis tried so hard to destroy.

In answer to the question, can we forgive? On this 69th anniversary of my grandparents’ last day on earth, I can only say, Hashem yinkom damam, May G-d avenge their death. There is no forgiveness for the Nazis!


Mr. Mandel is the Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services. Mr. Mandel writes and lectures on a broad range of issues in Mental Health and Leadership and recently published a book with Dr David Pelcovitz, Breaking the Silence.