When I lost my parents, I felt like a marionette whose strings had been cut off. The lifeline that was tossed my way came in the form of a wad of old documents that had been hidden among the valuables first of my grandparents, and then of my father. Among them I discovered documentation of the family’s last-minute escape from Nazi Europe. I spent days and nights enthralled by those tattered pages. I was sucked into the dust they had gathered, into the smell of mystery they exuded, into the drama that had been spoken of in the past but only rarely and briefly.
Truth be told, with every sheet of paper I succeeded in detaching from the pack, rather than timely answers, they uncovered further “lost threads.” The new questions intrigued me, and so I began to investigate them with increasing interest. I must admit that to this day I am not entirely sure what motivates me, be it base curiosity and addiction, the pursuit of identity, or the sincere wish to afford some meaning, some presence, to lives so abruptly, brutally, totally obliterated.
In any case, it is clear to me that what drives me more than anything to continue collecting information is the new world of opportunities that has been opened up by the internet. In the past, any serious “heritage journey” would have entailed traveling to any number of remote locations for archive-digging. Today, however, more and more information may be accessed by a click on the closest computer keyboard. To be sure, even in this virtual realm many a-search ends up raising more questions than it does provide answers. Still, I have succeeded in harnessing a string or two.
For example, I discovered that a great-grandfather of mine, who grew up in a magical villa in Krakow, was one of four siblings, all of whom perished in the Holocaust. In the next generation, that of my grandmother, out of 20-plus first cousins, four survived, and all of them had left Poland before the Nazi occupation set in. In fact, of the entire family that was in Poland through the War, only one member survived or, more accurately, barely survived the Holocaust. He was hauled along the row of the terrible stations that marked the way of the Jews of Krakow—the ghetto, the Plaszow labor camp (famous for its appearance in Schindler’s List), Auschwitz, and more. After the War, he married a fellow survivor, who had also lost her entire family. Later they had a son and together they immigrated to Israel and settled in the center of Tel Aviv, where they made a living from a small grocery store.
When I finally found them, following intensive and occasionally frenzied searches on the internet, I discovered that they had lived a few blocks away from my grandmother, who also moved to Israel a few years before she passed away. Apparently, they never knew each of the other’s existence. When I finally found them, I also arrived too late. Not just the parents but even their only son had died—of cancer, while serving in the IDF, at the age of 21.
Still, the search taught me some important lessons in life. I learned how deep human suffering might reach, and the concurrent duty to acknowledge the mountains of blessings in my own life. I learned how low lawyers and relations might stoop when it comes to matters of inheritance, and how some people are able to rise and retain their humanity, despite it all. Specifically, I met a solitary relative (by marriage) who stretched out his hand in friendship and shared the knowledge he had. One day, he handed me the tefillin that had belonged to the cousin, whom I had never met, and a few weeks ago, we passed them on to our bar mitzvah boy, with much tangible emotion.
In the end, I understood one more thing, about myself; about us all, really. I understood that we might be Second or Third or Fourth Generation Holocaust Survivors, but we are also the “first generation of the internet.” This unique position, however, comes "with strings attached"—the right entails a duty. To those of you reading these words, who still have blood flowing in your fingers, do yourself a search, even a basic one. Among the list of names on the Yad Vashem website or that of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for example. I cannot guarantee that you will find more answers than questions, but if somewhere out there is any information about you or your people, it ought to be known now, while there are still those among us who might be able tie up at least a few of the loose ends.