Speaking With A Soviet Holocaust Survivor

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“Have you found any people or work from Shalom Alehem’s times? Do you speak Yiddish?”
It was these questions from Mr. Tochman that made me realize that an entire culture was wiped out between 1939-1945. Prior to 1939, Europe’s Jews while assimilating kept the flame alive through writing books, plays and poetry. Millions of people, spread over an entire continent, kept their traditions for hundreds of years. Hitler ended it all. A part of me felt that death today as I realized that I will never know Yiddish, I will never understand that Shtetl life of my grandparents and the art and music and plays that they used to watch will soon be extinguished as the last of that remaining population leave this world in the coming decade. The profound sadness expressed by Mr. Tochman made me feel the true depth of the Shoah. Jews don’t just mourn their dead. The reason for remembering something that happened fifty years ago is not just anger over the consequences of war. It is grief over a death of a culture and a profound feel of betrayal by those who were once friends, neighbors and countrymen. Like the last of the Mohicans, there is a sadness that can’t be told except for when told by someone who witnessed it first hand as light by light was extinguished in the most inhumane way possible. When humans chose to forget all that was human in others, when all potential was extinguished and the only thing that existed was harsh, barbaric and unimaginable horror and death. “People were eaten alive by lice. There were holes in their skulls thick with lice. They were devoured by lice.”

As far as I can tell, Jewish, Christian, or Atheist, no matter the faith, Americans simply don’t get it. They did not grow up being told over and over of the war, of the horrors faced by the previous generations. I couldn’t even go a meal without being reminded of the war, of my duty to finish the soup, the bread, the milk and the difficulty my grand parents had finding these in times of war. Americans were not explained how lucky they are just to be alive. It is this naivete and the constant war from the side of the winners and conquerors that must make most Americans incapable of understanding just how savage war is and why all the death in on TV and movies is so simple and empty and devoid of emotion. This is what makes America incapable of comprehending how war impacts people and why Europeans are so hung up on some six years in human history that changed the world forever.

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