All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).

Monday, 16 April 2007

The Parents, The Survivors And The Children

Looking over today's postings, I fear you might get the impression that I did not honour Holocaust Memorial Day in the correct spirit. Please know that this is not the case.

I have talked about the Holocaust and its effect on me, many times before on this site. As you know from the recent article by Jane Ulman, my mother was hidden during the war and so, in a way, I count myself as being the child of a survivor. I don't pretend that this puts me in the same league (if that is the correct terminology) as say, the progeny of someone who came out of Auschwitz or Belsen, but I do believe that my pride in being a Jew, as well as my strident opinions on Israel, do emerge as a result of my upbringing and the strong influence exerted upon me by my dear mother.

Am I affected by the Holocaust, or rather, am I more affected as a result of her experiences in the Shoah? I would say that the answer must be an emphatic yes to both counts. But do I see myself as the child of a survivor? I'm afraid that's the bit I don't really know or understand.

As harrowing as my mother's war experiences were, she still came out relatively unscathed, compared to the horrors endured by the less fortunate members of our nation who managed to make it through the camps. She was blessed to avoid seeing her direct family murdered before her eyes and also had the opportunity to enjoy a teenage life in the city where she was born after the war. However, you can't really compare this experience with someone who lost everything and everyone and who had no choice but to re-construct an existence from mere crumbs.

Yet, therein lies the paradox. My mother survived and bears the guilt of the survivors, which is something that cannot be expunged from the soul. If that is the mark that I carry forth within my psyche, then, yes, I am the child of a survivor.

I went through a period of wondering whether I was part of such a group and attended a seminar of the "second generation children" a number of years ago. It helped crystallize in my mind an understanding of how my mother's experiences had left their imprint on me. For the first time, I had an insight into her attitudes, albeit entwined with the nagging question of whether they had really shaped me to the extent that I had been led to believe.

I emerged from the conference with a clearer definition of how the Holocaust affected me and subsequently realised that I didn't feel comfortable thinking of myself as one of the members, if you will, of this "second generation" clique. Yet, I still think that something of my mother's experience has been passed down to me - although I still can't quite put my finger on what it is.

Which brings me to this very day when we have just witnessed the ghastly murder of those young college students in Virginia. Like many of the "six million", these poor victims will also never have the opportunity to populate the world with their descendants.

It is therefore truly heartbreaking that on the day we Jews commemorate the Holocaust and it's ongoing legacy of a lost future for so many dynasties, families in the USA are having to come to terms with the shattering realisation that their very own children will never be tomorrow's progenitors. These parents are today's survivors.

I don't think I've answered any of the questions I set out to tackle when I started this post, but one thing I can state without reservation is that bullets do more than just kill.

They eradicate the future, whether in 1945 or 2007. Will the young men and women who escaped the gunman also bear the guilt for surviving the massacre?

The scale of this event is infinitesimally smaller than the Holocaust, but on this day of remembrance, the resulting emotions and lifelong scars are all too familiar.

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