On Sunday, April 9, 1944, the second day of Pesach, the Hungarian police came for my grandfather, Reb Dovid Hersh, a”h.
My mother’s family lived in Fekete Ordo, a village of 200 families, 70 of them Jewish, less than 20 miles from Munkachevo, Czechoslovakia, which today is part of Ukraine. Reb Dovid, my namesake as well as my grandfather, was the village shochet, dayan, and baal tefilah. He was considered the leader of this small community. The Nazi strategy was to first remove the leaders.
Later that same evening on the second day of Pesach, my mother and two sisters, along with my grandmother Tzivia, a”h, made a seder. I’ve often asked my mother how she could possibly have made a seder after what transpired that same morning with her father. My mother’s answer: “What else should we do? It was the second night of Pesach.”
Where were we – those of us living safely and comfortably in the year 2006 – on the second night of Pesach several months ago? No doubt with our families, at home or perhaps in Florida, Israel, or other locales.
Vehigadita l’bincha bayom hahu
(And you shall tell your children on that day). We all spoke of Yetzias Mitzrayim – the exodus from Egypt. But how many of us related stories of the Shoah at our seder table?
My grandfather returned home several days after his arrest. His beard had been cut off and the middle of his head shaved. And then, on the last day of Pesach 1944, my mother and her family were taken to a ghetto.
It has become all too easy to say we will never forget. And no doubt we won’t. But will our grandchildren?
Every year, in the period between Rosh Chodesh Sivan and Shavuos, tens of thousands of Jews of Hungarian and Czechoslovakian descent commemorate the yahrzeit of their family members who perished in the Holocaust. This was the time in 1944 when these families entered Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen, and other concentration camps. If you davened in any shul with Hungarian mispallalim in their late seventies and eighties, you probably noticed how many men had an aliyah l’Torah or said kaddish.
How long before there are no such mispallalim left to remind us of what happened to them and their families – to our families?
We children of survivors of the Shoah bear a special responsibility to share and to present a picture for all children today. We have a responsibility to remember because they – our enemies – want us to forget.
In 1998, David Smith, a history teacher and football coach at Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, and Linda Hooper, the school’s principal, decided to use the lesson of the Holocaust to teach their students tolerance. The students – White Anglo-Saxon Protestants raised in a town with no Jews – decided to collect six million paper clips to symbolize the six million murdered Jews.
As part of this project they set out to find an original rail car used to transport Jews to concentration camps. They sent letters to rail companies and museums in Germany, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, and other European nations. Some of the replies they received essentially complained about the proliferation of Holocaust memorials – it’s time to forget what happened 60 years ago, the children were told.
There are more people than we would like to imagine in those countries who are just waiting for the first generation of survivors to die. They’re counting on the rest of the world forgetting ten, twenty, and fifty years from now.