"My grandfather passed away nearly 10 years ago and with him small stories of our family during the genocide were also lost"GABY VIDES

Content note: Detailed discussion of the Holocaust, genocide and mass murder

“Forgetfulness leads to exile while remembrance is the secret of redemption,” are the words that guide your exit as you leave Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. Remembrance has always been a central facet of the Jewish faith: On Pesach we remember the persecution of the Jews in Egypt, during Chanukah we light the candles to remember the miracle of the oil and we are even reminded in the Torah to remember Shabbat.

This Wednesday marked Holocaust Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for the millions of individuals who were persecuted during the Holocaust as well as those lost in other, more recent, genocides. In the immediate aftermath of World War Two, against the backdrop of gas chambers, concentration camps and ghettos, the true horrors of the Holocaust, and unchecked antisemitism, were exposed. Jews, turning to the power of collective memory, made a plea to current and future generations: Remember.

“For me, the Holocaust is personal: It is my family’s history, it is my faith’s history and it is my own history.”

Every year my family lights a candle, reciting the name of a young Jewish child who was murdered by the Nazis. While reading the names, I would imagine these children, their families and their life before the Holocaust. When I was 11 years old, the name I read out was of Dina – she died in a concentration camp when she was 11. The intangibility of the scale of Nazi persecution was made acutely simple when reciting these names – I could vividly imagine Dina with braids in her hair, helping her mother to cook in the kitchen of their house in Lodz. The day before I too had baked a chocolate cake with my mother from my great grandmother Lida’s recipe book. The cookbook was put together by the Jewish community living then in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – my family, alongside many other Jews in Bulawayo at the time, had worked in the Kapulski bakery in Lithuania and the cookbook was a means to maintain their connection with this past. The lines connecting Dina and I were merely a few generations; our shared identity as young Jewish girls mediating this time.

Dina was born the same year as my grandfather, or Morfar as we called him. My Morfar is considered one of the lucky ones: He survived. My great grandmother left Lithuania with three small children in 1938. My great grandfather had left a year earlier to South Africa in order to make money to send back to the family so they could afford to travel with the necessary documents to conceal their Jewish identities. Lida had used essentially all their money to ensure the family could flee Lithuania before the Nazis arrived; they took trains through Poland, Germany, France and then a boat to the UK. Along their journey, her documents, and falsified Christian identity, were scrutinised numerous times by the Nazis. My Morfar was unable to speak for the entirety of this three-week journey, as any possibility that they were heard talking in Yiddish could mean being discovered and arrested.

After arriving in the UK, Lida discovered that the last boat to South Africa had already set sail and the family was stranded for a year. In the meantime, my great grandpa had been told the boat had sunk and no one had survived. My Morfar eventually made it to South Africa in 1940 and was united with his father.

My aunt visited Ninth Fort near Kaunas – the site of the largest massacre of Lithuanian Jews in the HolocaustMichelle Dige/Gaby Vides

If my great grandparents had not managed to leave Lithuania, my grandfather’s fate would have been very similar to Dina’s. Ultimately almost 95% of Lithuania’s Jewish population were exterminated over the course of the Nazi’s three-year occupation – more than 40 members of my grandfather’s extended family being among this unimaginable destitution of life. Most of my family either died early on in the ghettos, were taken to Stuffhof concentration camp in Poland or were murdered at Ninth Fort near Kaunas – the site of the largest massacre of Lithuanian Jews in the Holocaust.

My grandfather never spoke about the Holocaust; perhaps he was too traumatised, or maybe he simply wanted to forget. My mum only has faint memories of an aunt who suffered from PTSD – she was smuggled out of the Kaunas ghetto in a potato sack early on in the Nazi’s occupation of Lithuania.

My grandfather passed away nearly 10 years ago and with him small stories of our family during the genocide were also lost. It was only through writing this article and speaking to my own aunt who has travelled through Lithuania, tracing our family’s movements during the war, that I was told these personal stories of annihilation and murder.

“We must remember that antisemitism is insidious until it is not.”

As we lose the generation who witnessed the unprecedented atrocities of the Shoah first-hand, we do not have the luxury of being complacent. With the intensification of ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories in recent years, the poison of Holocaust denial continues to spread and gain legitimacy – a survey released last year on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz revealed that over half of American’s were unaware that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

We must remember that antisemitism is insidious until it is not.

Remembering is not a passive, nostalgic activity in Judaism; collective memory is fundamental to our survival. And as Jews, there is a lot to remember. We have been persecuted throughout history. Simultaneously, we have been the omnipotent, manipulating puppeteer, controlling the levers of power through our capitalist zealousness, and the ‘inferior race’, a backward, untrustworthy people seeking to corrupt society. These antisemitic tropes, with deep historical roots in Medieval Europe, helped to precipitate the horrors of the Holocaust, and to be clear, have not disappeared since.


Mountain View

University formally adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism

Throughout my teenage years, I’ve borne witness to new, as well as very old expressions of antisemitism: Comments on Facebook pages calling for Jews to return to gas chambers; a teacher insinuating my sister was stingy because of her faith; neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, and then the President of the United States saying this group included ‘very fine people’; Jeremy Corbyn denouncing the EHRC report on Labour antisemitism, claiming that the party’s antisemitism problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons”, thus continuing to deny Jews our right in defining our own experiences of antisemitism – the list could go on and on.

For me, the Holocaust is profoundly personal: It is my family’s history, it is my faith’s history and it is my own history. There is a strange sense of foreboding in remembering the Holocaust – the final solution was intended to be just that: Final. Hitler intended to destroy all Jewry; if successful, myself, my family and my Jewish friends were targets of this eradication.

Antisemitism has its claws deeply fastened in our society. Jews are scared – we are telling you antisemitism is anything but vanquished. So, this Holocaust Memorial Day, I urge you to listen to us – and for Dina, for my grandfather, for all Jews lost and all Jews living, please remember.