In 2004, I joined the Witnesses in Uniform delegation of 180 IDF officers to Poland. We had the chance to visit some of the major sites of Holocaust memory, including Auschwitz-Birkenau. We also saw the Lodz ghetto – the place where my father was imprisoned during the war.
Every participant on the trip had to spend some time preparing beforehand. I thought that this might be an opportunity to sit down with my father and have him share his experiences with me. He had never spoken about it with me before.
I took him through the entire itinerary of our trip, and I pointed out that we would be passing through the Lodz ghetto. I hoped that he would open up and talk about it. But he didn’t say a word. My father wished me a successful journey, but nothing more than that.
When we got to Lodz, our guides took us to what remains of the ghetto. I tried to imagine my father walking down the street, but I had no information about his time there. I did, however, experience the unique feeling all IDF officers feel when they land in Poland. It’s something I simply couldn’t compare to anything else I’ve done in my life. Our presence there alone was proof that the Nazis failed in their mission to destroy the Jewish people.
The delegation was made up of all types of people – officers young and old, Jewish, Bedouin and Druze. That’s something that makes the IDF a unique military force – we invest not only in protecting the country but also in educating our officers and passing on our heritage and our values from generation to generation.
When I returned from the trip, I sat down again with my father. I showed him all of my pictures, and hoped that he would start talking, but to no avail.
I thought I’d never learn what happened to him, but this year something changed. My daughter was doing a roots project for school, and as part of the coursework she sat down with my father and asked him to tell her his story. For the first time ever, we learned that before the war, he lived in a Polish village called Stieglitz. The Nazis killed all of the Jews who lived there, but he managed to survive.
It’s not unusual for Holocaust survivors to avoid speaking about their experiences. But perhaps it was easier for him to talk to my daughter than it was for him to talk to me. He needed some kind of trigger, and grandchildren are often that trigger.
It was finally time for him to pass on his legacy to the next generation.
This article was written by Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, the head of the International Media & Communications Branch of the Israel Defense Forces Spokespersons Unit.