Recently my paternal grandmother passed away after a very long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst obviously the passing of a family member is always sad, her death would not be considered tragic, given how long she lived and especially the state she was in the last few years of her life.
Losing her in body was the last stage of her passing after our family had already accepted she was lost mentally many years ago, however the fact remains I have now officially lost all four of my grandparents.
At nearly 30 years old this is not a surprising thing. Some people never knew any of their grandparents and I was lucky enough to have known all four of mine and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Our grandparents’ generation is often known as “The Greatest Generation” because they went through the Great Depression, World War 2, and in general the World has probably changed more in their lifetime than in any before them. The nickname is deserved but my grandparents were part of an even smaller group who went through even more than most their age.
All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. They all had very different experiences to each other, especially as Hungary and Poland had very different involvements in the war, but the fact that all four were able to survive, move to Australia and create the life they did, which eventually led to my existence is a miracle in itself.
I am not a particularly religious person. I had a traditional Jewish upbringing and did attend Jewish school (for the most part) as well as keeping the major holidays, but I don’t keep kosher at all and I rarely go to Synagogue – I would be the Jewish equivalent of a Christmas/Easter Christian.
Despite the fact I’m not that religious, it still remains an integral part of my identity. Compared to past eras, Jews have assimilated more and more into modern society, which is obviously a good thing, but only two generations removed from what my grandparents went through, it is critical to hold on to that identity they survived to maintain.
We are getting very close to a time when there will be no Holocaust survivors alive and it is the duty of the next generations to continue to pass on the traditions as well as an appreciation for what our grandparents went through and came out the other side.
Like most people I never had the opportunity to meet my great grandfather, however the reasons in my case are obviously different as he was gassed very early in the war. Despite the fact that I have seen the one photo we have of him many times throughout my life, I only recently realised just how much I have come to look like him. I have showed the photo to several friends and they have all been amazed at how uncanny the resemblance is, especially considering most people think I look more like the other side of my family.
Realising this connection has once again reinforced in me how important it is to me to honour those who came before me and whilst I don’t envisage myself ever being particularly religious, I definitely plan on continuing the traditions I was raised with.
I don’t plan on ever getting a tattoo, but I do know that if I were to ever get one, I would want to get the Holocaust number tattoo of my paternal grandfather, which was imprinted on him in Auschwitz and stayed there for the rest of his life as a constant reminder of what he went through.
Some may say the idea of getting that tattoo is wrong, but the reason it appeals to me is the idea of him living on through me and as a reminder to myself to never forget what occurred for me to exist at all.
Alas, I wouldn’t get it anyway, but we actually don’t have a record or a memory of the number he had and it’s probably for the best. But I think about being a kid, sitting on his lap and staring at that tattoo to this day.
Anti-Semitism has been on the rise again in recent years across a lot of the globe. It is unfortunate but not all that surprising, but as long as we continue to learn from our own past, we will never let something like that happen again. The key will be making sure these future generations, those who never had the chance to meet the survivors will still know and appreciate what came before them.
A lot of younger people take so much we have in life for granted, both Jews and non-Jews alike. The world has changed dramatically since our grandparents were our age and there is so much we can’t relate to or even begin to properly fathom, but it is crucial we take the time to think about it and appreciate what we have and more importantly, what we don’t have to deal with too.
We have what we have because they went through what they went through. We are their legacy and the beneficiaries of their struggle and we should never, ever forget that.
It was an honour and privilege to have known all of my grandparents. They were all very different people who coped very differently with what they went through, but one thing they all had in common was they were survivors.
Whilst I hope and pray I never have to endure what they did, all I can do is try my best to honour them and make them proud. I hope you all try to do the same for yours.