How the Holocaust Changed Us – My Family’s Story

Electric fence in former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz I, Poland

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Monday, January 27th, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In my family, it’s a day of mourning and a day to reflect on why the Holocaust happened and how we can work to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.

What do you know about the Holocaust?

Do you believe it happened?

Do you know how many lives were taken?

Have you ever tried to learn about why it happened or whether or not it could happen again?

Do you just brush it off as a part of history that doesn’t really matter to you?

Do you believe there are people out there that deny it happened?

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is an international memorial day that commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during World War II. An unimaginable part of our history that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 6 million Jews and 11 million others, by the Nazis.

What if I told you that the Holocaust was something that many of us grew up learning about, not through books or movies, but through stories from relatives that were actually there and experienced it all first hand? What if I told you that I was one of those people and that I lost a number of family members who I’ve only heard stories about, but never had the pleasure of meeting?

I was very young when my Papa first began speaking to me about the Holocaust. I knew it was something important, but I didn’t really understand why until I was much older.

He explained that there was a political party who targeted particular groups of people because of their religion and beliefs. They felt threatened by an entire religion (among others) enough to kill millions of them, for no reason at all.

He would always end these talks with the same reminder…

If it should happen again, you tell them that you’re Russian, not Jewish. You have blonde hair and blue eyes, so they won’t question you. You will be okay.

It took me years to understand that my Papa was preparing me for something that he always feared could happen again. He wanted me to be ready and have the means to escape. The thought of that now, as a Mother, is heartbreaking.

soldier in the army during world war II

My Papa wasn’t in a concentration camp, but many people he loved were. He was already in America, and was enlisted in the Army during World War II. His Mother Hannah and sister, Rose, who had planned to immigrate to America to join the rest of their family, were brought to a concentration camp packed in a cattle car, with terrified people of all ages. They had no room to move, were given no food, had one bucket where they could go to the bathroom and had a tiny window for ventilation. People were dying right next to them on the 4 day journey.

My great grandma wasn’t in the concentration camp long, from what I understand. She was placed in a ditch and shot in the head because they didn’t believe she was “useful enough”. She couldn’t provide anything that the Nazi’s needed. If you could work for them, you might have been spared, but if you were too young, too old, too weak or too sick, you were killed instantly. Otherwise, you would just take up space and eat the limited amount of food (if you could call it that) they served, that could instead be given to those that could build and work for the Nazis.

My Auntie Rose and the man who would later become my Uncle Lew, both spent a great deal of time in concentration camps, their arms tattooed with blue numbers that will always remain in my memory. Tattoos that I grew up aware of, but rarely asked about, because I knew that the pain was still there. They both arrived with their spouses and kids, but left alone, together, as everyone else they loved had been killed. My Aunt’s son was just a baby. He had no chance. My Uncle’s wife and three kids were also killed.

As I got older, my Aunt and Uncle spoke to me more and more about their experiences in the Holocaust, what they saw and how being in a concentration camp changed them. They spoke about being ripped out of their homes and lied to. Not only did the Nazi’s strip them of all of their possessions, but they also took away their basic rights.

They were told what to wear, when and how much they could eat and if and when they could shower. They were treated worse than criminals, yet they had done nothing wrong. They were merely living their lives.

The Nazis and the Holocaust traumatized them and took away their families. As I got older, I realized that the Holocaust also gave them a different outlook on life. They had more compassion, empathy and a strong desire to treat others with the utmost kindness, no matter what their religion, race or beliefs. A person was a person and therefore deserved an equal amount of respect.

My Uncle Lew was one of the most gentle people I’ve ever known. He was quiet and shy. He was the most talented baker and was very ticklish. His laugh was contagious.

My Auntie Rose was a collector of beautiful jewelry and knick knacks. Every time I went to her home, I left with something from her collection. She loved to be surrounded by family, especially when she got the opportunity to cook for them.

That traumatizing time of their lives could have broken them. But they chose to live their lives in spite of almost having them taken for no good reason. I always admired them.

Though my Auntie Rose and Uncle Lew have both passed away, I am determined to share their story. We are lucky to have video of them, telling their stories and one day, I hope to be able to share those videos with the world. It’s our job, as their family to get their voices out there and to continue to tell their story so that we will never forget the horror and injustice that was brought upon millions of innocent people during the Holocaust. People who were no different than you or me. People that deserve to be remembered for their strength, their courage and their unwillingness to let hate win.

Monday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A time to reflect how the Holocaust changed my family and the lives of millions. This is our story.

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Hello There!

I'm so honored that you've found us! I'm Heather, a Mom of 3 who blogs about parenting, food, occasional travel and how I overcame my daily struggle with anxiety. I miss sleeping and rely on coffee and laughter to get me through the day. I hope you enjoy and visit often!

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  1. Thank you for sharing this story. I’ve heard and read quite a number of personal stories about the Holocaust, either first hand or passed down, but they still horrify me. I couldn’t quite describe it but I feel sad imagining my family being in such situations.

  2. Pingback: Thoughts of a Jewish Mother in 2021 - The Super Mom Life

  3. Probably the worst day in the history of mankind where so many lives were lost and the after effects of it still prevailing. Wars have brought upon so many misfortunes on the lives of so many people. It is just sadening

  4. What an amazing history! I truly admire the people who came through such a time. They were made of true grit.

  5. This is so eye-opening. It’s wild how little people know about all that it entailed. Thank you for sharing and assisting in making sure it happens never again!

  6. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. The Holocaust was such a horrible time in history. I cannot even imagine the anguish of the people whose children, parents, siblings were killed for no reason at all. It is a must that we know about this so that it will not happen again. Reading your story made me remember my grandfather’s stories about how they survived the Japanese occupation here in my country. They feared that the Japanese would get my aunt and make her a “comfort woman” so every time there were Japanese patrolling their area, my grandfather would roll up my aunt in a mat and hide her under the bed. Scary.

  7. I’ve heard little stories of it but didn’t know the worsts of it. I am sure it’s heartbreaking especially when you have family who experienced it.

  8. the holocaust has affected so many people. it really has changed so many of our lives and history forever.

  9. Such a touching story. What happened during the Secon World War was unbelievably sad and it’s something impossible to forget. I pray the Universe this won’t happening again 🙏

  10. This is such a sad and scary part of history. I have family that is from Germany and Austria and part of me is scared to find out if they were involved in the Holocaust in any way b/c I don’t want to be linked to that. But knowledge is power and so knowing is probably better than wondering.

  11. It is so hard to believe this breaks my heart to think about it but it is so important to share, to remember, and honor those lives lost. Keeping their spirits alive is what will protect future generations from allowing it to happen again.

  12. This is a very informative post about the Holocaust. I visited Auschwitz when I was in Poland and it was haunting… I hope nothing like this will ever happen again…

  13. Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story. I have such a great respect for the victims of the holocaust and their families.

  14. It’s so heartbreaking to hear these stories, but like you said, they must be told! The holocaust was one of the most, heinous crimes our history has ever endured. I am so sorry for what your family went through. Thank you for being willing to share!

  15. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. What I know about the Holocaust I learned from books and movies. Such a tragedy. So many innocent lives lost. My husband was in Poland a few years ago and he got to tour Auschwitz.

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  16. Your family’s story is so tragic and heartbreaking. While I do not have close ties with the Holocaust the scenes from books and reenacted movies is enough to make me cry buckets of tears. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas specifically ingrained such sadness in me that I will never shake.

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  17. Thank you for sharing! It is important that we remember what happened and to never let it happen again. Please continue to educate and share your story.

  18. I remember learning about this in school. It was hard to think that someone could be that mean

  19. So beautifully written. I have no connections to anyone/anything from the Holocaust but I devour anything book related to it. I just can’t imagine what they went through and why? It makes no sense at all. Thank you for sharing their story and in turn yours.

  20. I can’t even imagine. I read and watch stories about this, but it’s not nearly the same as experiencing it. I hate how such ugliness was in the world and I hate that there are people who still have ugly thoughts. I am glad you are sharing their story. It’s important to never forget.

  21. When I was serving in the Army in Germany in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I went to the Dachau camp. Such a solemn place. It broke my heart. There is a museum there, and the writings are posted in different languages for people from many countries can read and understand. The standing memorial there is a site to see and a place to reflect on how this should never happen again. I guess I became engrossed in WWII history in high school, and, when I decided to go in the Army, I wanted to go to Germany to see sites like Dachau and other places.

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      I would love to visit the camp where my family was held. While I have heard first hand what they went through, it would make everything that much more real for us. Thank you for your service!

        1. Did you know what camp they were at? I didn’t see that in your post. I remember talking to some much older German men and women about the Holocaust, and that they weren’t aware of the crimes their own government were committing, not until they were forced to see the horrors and bury the dead.

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            Yes. They were at more than one, but were at Auschwitz for the bulk of the time.

          2. Unfortunately, I never went to Poland to visit there, and I wish I had. Again, I hope that you can make that journey someday.

  22. All that I know about the Holocaust, I learned in school, or watching shows on the History channel. There is so much I’ve learned and I hope that this never happens again. I am shocked that there are deniers out there! Have they no shame?

  23. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. I think it is important to remember the past so it won’t happen again. I’ve taken my kids to the holocaust museum in St. Louis and also to survivor stories because I want them to understand what happened.

    1. As this is near to my heart it was a heartbreaking read, but such an important message. I hope people continue to share their ancestors stories so we never forget the atrocities that were done so they can never be repeated. Thank you for sharing your story.