Originally published in the In Jerusalem, December 9, 2016
When I was 17, my mother sent me to Auschwitz. Now that my son is 17, my husband and I sent him too.
I was a teenager living in the US. He is a teenager living in Israel. I went with the March of the Living because my mother (God bless her) insisted upon it. He went through school with nearly all of his classmates as many Israelis do in the 12th grade.
I went knowing that my grandparents had watched their children murdered before their eyes. I had sat with them as they cried, lost in memories I never heard from their own lips.My son was shipped off with a binder full of his family history. His paternal great-grandfather never stopped bearing witness in video, written, and photographic testimony.
My grandparents hid. In barns, woods, wherever they could, trying to keep their remaining relatives alive. My grandmother became a partisan when all her siblings, children, nieces and nephews had been lost to her.
My husband’s grandparents survived multiple camps and death marches and became nearly the sole survivors of their previously large families.
As I walked through the silent forest, with Polish police surrounding us, I imaged my grandparents hiding from the Nazis under fallen trees and in ditches. My son stood in a gas chamber similar to the one his zaide (Yiddish for grandfather) stood in as he waited to die like his parents and siblings before him, but was saved when water rained down instead of gas.
The school asked all of the parents to write letters which would be given to the boys after they visited Yaar Hayeladim, a forest site where hundreds of Jewish children, as well as hundred of others, lay in several mass graves. We did not know what he would be thinking, or what he would want to hear, so we said the things we most wanted him to gain from his experience.
This is the letter we wrote:
“As parents, all we want to do is protect our children. We sooth your scrapes and work hard to put you in places where you will grow and learn and be safe and protected. We fight bullies and we kiss away your tears. But, at some point, we must stop shielding you and let you learn about the evils of the world and all that man is capable of. It is a lesson you must learn so that you can do your part to make sure that it never happens again, not on a large scale and not on a small scale.