Children whose parents survived the Holocaust carry with them a burden and a bond that few others can understand.
That unique relationship brought together several dozen children and grandchildren of survivors Aug. 4 at the East Brunswick home of Judy and Jack Steinweis to relaunch a long dormant “2-G and 3-G group” for second- and third-generation descendants of survivors.
Forming the group will provide a way “to develop community, to develop programs for the schools,” said Mirah Becker, the founder of a similar group years ago that had stopped meeting. She is instrumental in the re-establishment of the group, along with fellow East Brunswick residents Rebecca Brenowitz and Scott Alter.
With a diminishing number of Holocaust survivors left to tell the story of the murdered Six Million, Becker, whose mother survived Auschwitz, said, “It is our obligation to fill that void. The torch has been passed to us so that no one ever forgets.”
“We want to take these stories and make them something positive,” contributing to efforts to prevent any future such tragedies, said Becker. She said she also worries about “the Holocaust deniers coming out of the woodwork now that the Holocaust survivors are passing on.”
Alter, whose father was the sole survivor of his immediate family, said the group has met a few times and decided one of its prime functions would be to arrange for members to speak in schools and synagogues and for community groups.
“There are some things we as a group take for granted because we grew up with it but a lot of 14- and 15-year-olds don’t know,” said Alter.
Alter himself became interested in addressing students after speaking to his son’s seventh-grade class at Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick last year and receiving a “great response.”
His father was from Polyana in what was then Czechoslovakia, which was invaded by the Nazis in 1944. His father was taken to Auschwitz and then two other camps before being liberated with his own father in 1945 from forced labor in the mines. Alter’s grandfather died the day after liberation.
Other survivors from Polyana and the few distant relatives who had survived were Alter’s family as he grew up. “This was normal life to me,” he said. “These people had a community, a heritage that was lost to the Shoa.”
As many of the others at the Aug. 4 gathering reported, Alter’s father rarely talked about his wartime experiences. “I felt if he didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to press him. I regret that now.”
Virtually the only time Alter can recall his father, who died in in 1991 at age 63, mentioning the Shoa was when he was 15, and he noticed him looking over his shoulder as Alter read an article about the search for Josef Mengele in Time magazine, then telling his son, “I remember him.”
“I just went cold,” recalled Alter. “It was the most chilling thing I had ever heard.”
Brenowitz’s German-born parents both escaped Nazi-occupied Europe, her father to Spain and her mother aboard a ship to Cuba.
She said the experiences of the group members’ parents and the fears and hopes their children grew up with make for a special bond that only children or grandchildren of a survivor can understand.
“We are like our own community and we should stay connected to each other,” she said.
Betty Landau of East Brunswick, the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors, said, “We were raised differently. We had a different mentality and outlook. We had to learn to be American. We were taught to be strong and tough.”
Harold Geller of Edison grew up in Toronto, the son of Polish survivors who met, married, and had a baby, his older sister, at a displaced persons’ camp set up in Bergen-Belsen after liberation.
“A lot of people don’t realize there was a community in Bergen-Belsen after the war,” said Geller. He found his parents’ ketuba, signed in the camp, after they died and donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Museum officials told him they knew that marriages had taken place in Bergen-Belsen, “but they never had any documentation or a ketuba before from one.”