After the 70th Anniversary ceremony at the Auschwitz concentration camp, many of the survivors returned for dinner to the Dialogue Center – an old convent located very close to the camp that was housing many of us for the days leading up to the event. It seems these days had been intense for everyone. Reliving the memories of this place – in stories and in interviews and in conversation, over and over again – while the demolished gas chambers and barbed wire sit just across the street. There was a slight feeling of release as we had nowhere else to be, and all that was left to do for the day was eat.
My grandfather and I sat with Alina and her granddaughter Ewa, as we had for several meals at the Dialogue Center this week. Their English was much better than my Polish. Alina learned her English in Auschwitz, where she was sent as a Polish political prisoner, as a non-Jew, and she and my grandfather had compared their imprisonment. Tonight, there were smiles, and there was laughter – as there actually had been consistently for the past few days, too. My grandfather and Alina broke into song a few times around the table, singing Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Ewa and I talked about music and living in Warsaw and TV (though the fact the we watched two different incarnations of 90210 made me feel super old), and we talked about hearing stories from our grandparents and what it was like to come to Auschwitz with them.
Meeting children and grandchildren of survivors is an experience I’ve never really had before, and it has been so eye-opening. I would come down to the lobby each night expecting to quietly check my email, and I would routinely go to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning because of the new people I was meeting. I never could have expected that I would be walking away from my time here with these new friends and intimate connections. Hearing these other people retell their family history, and how their families have incorporated and dealt with this massive trauma. We all have survivors in our family. Their stories are our stories. When my grandfather is gone, his story will be my story. Even now, it is a part of my history. It always will be.
From generation to generation.