By Merav Levkowitz
Tuesday (November 9th) marked seventy-two years since Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass,” which marked the beginning of the Holocaust in Germany. The first manifestation of Nazi-led violence against the Jews, Kristallnacht saw destruction and vandalism of synagogues and Jewish businesses. Over the past few days, Jewish communities around the world have gathered to remember Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. While “Never Forget” has become a mantra for the Jewish people in particular, I, as many others, fear that as time goes on, we risk distancing ourselves from the Holocaust in a dangerous way.
While the Holocaust remains at the root of much of contemporary Jewish thought and action, for many of us it lives on as part of collective memory, which causes pain but is very much intangible. As American Jews in particular, the realities of 1940s Europe are remarkably distant.
Though I am not a descendant of concentration camp survivors, my paternal grandparents escaped to Israel from Poland just before World War II. On both sides, their large families perished at the hands of the Nazis. While I did not grow up seeing the direct imprints (tattoos, even) of the Nazis, the Holocaust was made real for me by my father’s stories of growing up without grandparents. Beyond the stories of what happened, I was struck by what could have been—that is, the way world Jewry, and on a small scale, my own family, would have been different if not for the Nazis.
Museums, monuments, organizations, and films that seek to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, those who perished, and those who acted righteously are crucial to the preservation of knowledge and memory. But they are often sterile; there is nothing like the human touch. In the vast hallways of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, among the statistics and the photographs, I get the chills, but it is when I hear a survivor’s personal account—a story of being separated from parents, for example—that my heart aches and I cry.
My generation is the last that will have the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors in person. As we lose these contacts, I fear that our understanding of the Holocaust risks fading like old photographs and becoming diluted. It is our duty to maintain our ties with survivors for as long as possible and to preserve their stories. Even in a globalized, virtual world, the human connection continues to reign supreme. Reach out and connect, so that we never forget.