This week’s Shabbat Shalom message was written by guest author and JEWISHcolorado’s Chief Advancement Officer Renée Rockford.
On this is solemn Holocaust Remembrance Day, an observance that coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I think of my father, z”l.
He endured five years—from the age of 13 to 18—in five different Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau. The eldest of several children and part of an extended family of 18, he was the only one to survive.
My first trip with my father to begin searching for lost family was when I was twelve. We returned to Europe, to Poland. We walked under the infamous gates to Auschwitz, emblazoned with the words Arbeit Macht Frei. We scoured what was left of the camps, and my father recalled barracks he had inhabited here or there, beatings in this courtyard, killings along a particular fence.
We returned to his hometown in southern Poland, where he had not been since 1939, and we made several more trips just like that one. We traveled to Israel; we poured over records at Yad Vashem; we contacted family after family across the U.S. who shared the same last name, hoping beyond hope that he would find someone alive.
There was no one.
When he was well into his 80s, my father realized that the burial space right next to his own purchased plot in the Jewish cemetery had been made unusable by a small uplift of bedrock just beneath the surface. “Bashert,” thought my father. Though he could not give his family burials, he could use the divinely preserved spot to memorialize their names.
And so, a dozen years ago this week, my family erected a single headstone, etched with all 18 names, and with these words, we remembered them:
We remember these parents, grandparents,
aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters.
The children whose lives were stolen away,
Robbed of their time on this earth.
Ripped from parents’ arms
Hopes, dreams, and prayers turned to dust.
Families who were taken away in the dead of night,
Like cattle in cars, no air to breathe, crying, starving, and dying.
We grieve these lives unlived, their promise unfulfilled.
Separated from this world to be no more.
From the ashes, we remember them.
My father now lies buried there, his headstone next to theirs. And on this Shabbat, as I say my father’s yahrzeit, I will remember all of them.
Chief Advancement Officer