Growing up in the wake of the Holocaust STELLAR PICKS
As a child of parents affected by World War II, Australian author Leah Kaminsky saw firsthand how the Holocaust damaged her family. She is determined to remind the world: never again I TRY GSTO THIN week this
t feels as though I was breastfed my parents’ stories, but I don’t think anything really sunk in until I was around the age of 11. I remember seeing horrific pictures of atrocities from the Holocaust at school, which gave me nightmares for quite a while.
Even though my parents spoke about their experiences, they never burdened me with graphic details. Nonetheless, growing up as the child of survivors, I developed a fairly vivid, if somewhat cursed imagination. The heaviness of their lives was just as palpable in their silences as it was in their whispered conversations.
My mother was 16 years old when Nazi troops marched into her town of Łódz´ in Poland. It wasn’t long before she, together with her parents and five older siblings, was herded into a ghetto, crammed with thousands of other Jews. My grandfather caught typhus and died, just before his wife and children were transported in cattle cars to the concentration camp of Auschwitz. My mother stood by, helpless, as her mother and older sister Leah, who I was named after, were sent to be murdered in the gas chambers. In the end, my mother was the sole survivor of her entire family.
My father’s family, who came from a small town in Eastern Europe, also suffered persecution during the war. When the Germans invaded, they murdered my grandmother and her youngest daughter. The rest of the family fled into the forests, where my grandfather saved orphaned children, hiding them in makeshift dugouts until the war’s end.
We forget history to our peril. A recent survey conducted in the UK found that five per cent of adults do not believe the Holocaust took place – that’s one in 20 Britons. Almost 10 per cent believe its scale has been exaggerated. A US survey found 41 per cent of millennials, and nearly one-third of all Americans, believe that less than two million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The actual number is six million. More than 65 per cent of millennials and 41 per cent of Americans do not know what Auschwitz is. These facts frighten me. The Holocaust is still a contemporary event, although its origins stretch back to the roots of anti-semitism. It shows the kind of atmosphere in which genocide can become a reality. Racism is rife today, with a rise of xenophobia, religious intolerance, hatred of people of colour and a mistrust of refugees. With social media, the truth can be grossly misrepresented and the demonisation of groups of people widely disseminated in an instant.
Ongoing education is essential in order to ensure we do not forget the important lessons history can teach us. After the war my mother would say, “Never again.” Numbing ourselves to the suffering of others dehumanises us, and can lead to dire consequences.
I have tried to instil compassion and empathy in my children and waited until they were old enough to ask their own questions before I told them about their dark heritage. Today’s youth are caring and passionate. I hope they will tackle the huge challenges of the future by keeping one eye firmly fixed on the past. The Hollow Bones by Leah Kaminsky (Penguin Random House, $32.99) is out on March 5.