4/12/2007 6:30:00 AM
Passing the torch
by Menachem Z. Rosensaft
Special to WJW

Growing up, we whose parents had emerged out of the Shoah believed that they were indestructible. They overcame the German efforts to murder them, survived ghettos and death camps and rebuilt their lives after the war. In our eyes, they were truly the “greatest generation.” It seemed to us that our parents would be here forever, and that they would always protect us as their children.

But age and frailties of the human body are proving to be inexorable. The ranks of those who suffered alongside the murdered victims of the Holocaust are steadily dwindling. The responsibility for transmitting the survivors’ legacy of remembrance into the future must now increasingly shift to us, their children and grandchildren.

In his keynote address at the First International Conference of Children of Holocaust Survivors in 1984, Elie Wiesel mandated us to do what the survivors “have tried to do ‹ and more: to keep our tale alive ‹ and sacred.” We are fortunate that the survivors are most ably represented by Sam E. Bloch, Roman Kent and Max Liebmann, the leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. But, it is now incumbent on us, the second and third generations, to stand and work alongside them more closely than ever before in perpetuating remembrance and challenging the conscience of humankind. Our task is to integrate our parents’ memories, spirit and perseverance into the Jewish community’s and the world’s collective consciousness.

The sons and daughters of the survivors are diverse, multitalented and anything but homogeneous. Among us are Holocaust remembrance activists such as Rositta Kenigsberg, Romana Strochlitz Primus and Leonard Wilf, with whom I had the privilege of serving on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Joel Geiderman, the council’s present vice chair; and psychologist Eva Fogelman, who pioneered support groups for children of survivors in the 1970s.

Our ranks also include Helen Epstein, author of the influential 1979 book, Children of the Holocaust: Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors; former World Jewish Congress executive director Elan Steinberg, the strategist behind the successful effort to wrest $1.25 billion of Holocaust assets from Swiss banks; my wife, Jean Bloch Rosensaft, an art historian and museum director who has curated numerous exhibitions of art by survivors and children of survivors as well as an international traveling photo-exhibition about the displaced persons camp of Bergen-Belsen; novelists Lily Brett, Thane Rosenbaum and Melvin Jules Bukiet; Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist Art Spiegelman; CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer; investment banker Jeffrey Wiesenfeld; documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner; American Jewish Committee executive vice president David Harris; and Serena Woolrich, the founder of Allgenerations, an Internet clearinghouse of information for survivors and their families, to name only a very few.

Each one of us implements our parents’ legacy in a personal way. Together, we personify our generation.

Because we are our parents’ children and grandchildren, we have a greater understanding of and sensitivity to their experiences than anyone else. We, who are the personal witnesses to the survivors, must and shall assume our parents’ and grandparents’ role as the principal guardians of Holocaust memory and remembrance. We must and we shall ensure that their horrendous experiences, the brutal mass-murder of their families, our families, and the attempted annihilation of European Jewry as a whole will never be forgotten, and that our parents’ and grandparents’ values and soul will remain a core element of the national and international institutions of memory they helped create.

We must and we shall carry on their unwavering struggle against all attempts to diminish the Jewish essence and centrality of the Shoah. We must and we shall intensify their allegiance and commitment to Israel. We must and we shall raise our collective voices on behalf of all, Jews and non-Jews alike, who are subjected to discrimination and persecution, or who are threatened by annihilation, anywhere in the world. And we must and we shall maintain their staunch opposition to all manifestations of Holocaust denial or trivialization. That is our pledge to our parents this Yom Hashoah.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is founding chair of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.