Growing up I was very fortunate to come to Israel on many occasions. Every trip was full of museums, hikes, fun activities and, without fail, a trip up to Haifa to visit my grandfather's cousin, Dudu, as well as a visit to the cemetery where my grandfather's family is buried. As you can imagine this was not always the highlight of my trip. I mean – who wants to go to a cemetery while on vacation? One time, while we were standing next to the grave of my great-grandmother, whom I am named for, I noticed she had additional names written on her headstone. When I pointed out this oddity, I was explained that those were the names of her siblings who had been murdered in the Holocaust. Since we do not know where they were killed, or what had happened to them, my family added the names on this headstone in order to remember them. This was the first time the importance of remembrance was called to my attention.
A few years later, while studying in seminary in Jerusalem, I went on a trip to Poland with a group of girls from my school. Not only would I be going with my teachers and friends, but my mother had decided to join us as well. My trip to Poland was a rollercoaster of emotions, thoughts, and ideas. I saw with my own eyes mass graves, ghettos, and death camps. During my week-long trip there was one moment that really stuck with me. I was sitting in a synagogue in Krakow and my teacher stood up and explained to us the immense importance of remembrance. We are always taught to remember the atrocities that were committed against us, but most emphasized is that we must remember the six million innocent lives that were brutally taken from this world by the Nazi Germans and their collaborators. Six million. An unfathomable amount. He then continued to explain that just hearing the number six million was not enough; in order to understand the scope of the tragedy we need to think about the individual person. We need to remember the 1+1+1, the one mother, the one father, the one baby. We need to remember the individual, the person, and not the number. We need to remember that there was someone named Ahava, someone named Sandor, someone named Avraham. Each one of them had a family, friends, hobbies. Each one of them had dreams. All of a sudden I understood exactly why those names were inscribed onto my great-grandmother's grave, and I understood that I was also responsible for remembering.
I came back to Israel emotionally distraught and felt incredibly lost. And that is when I discovered Yad Vashem. Sure, I always knew it was there and had in fact visited more than once. But this time I discovered that Yad Vashem is not just a museum to go and visit, but also a place that focuses all of its energy on remembering the individual. Remembering the 1+1+1. With the help of the Yad Vashem Archives I began researching my family, and each time I learned a different name, saw a picture of someone else, learned a little about their lives – and just like that I became a partner in the mission to remember.
Several years later, after making Aliyah and beginning university, I had the opportunity to intern at Yad Vashem. Here, I have seen, heard, and learned many things. I have met and heard testimony from survivors, I have learned stories about different artifacts in the museum, and I have watched videos of different people sharing their thoughts and reflections. One of the things that made a large impact on me was my acquaintance with the story of Susan Kerekes. Yad Vashem has an incredible Bar/Bat Mitzvah twinning program, where bar/bat mitzvah boys and girls are given the responsibility of remembering a child from the Holocaust who was never able to celebrate their own bar/bat mitzvah. This November, a Bar Mitzvah boy was twinned with a boy named Sandor Braun. Sandor Braun's story was a bit of a mystery to us and it became my job to find out as much as I could about this boy and his family. That is when I came across Sandor's sister, Susan. Susan survived the camps and participated in the USC Shoah Foundation's project to record testimony, and through this I got to learn Susan's story. Even though I have never met her, nevertheless I connected with her. I laughed with her, I cried with her. And just like that Susan became a part of my life.
To me, this is what Yad Vashem is all about. Yad Vashem is about remembering what happened, and ensuring that it never happens again. To many victims of the Holocaust, this was their dying wish. I came across a quote on the Yad Vashem website that read, "I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger." In the Hall of Names, hanging in the dome are pictures of people who have been murdered. It does not show them in Auschwitz, it does not show them emaciated or behind barbed wire, but rather we get to see pictures of people smiling and laughing, some with family and friends, and living their lives. It is our responsibility to remember these people. To not only remember how they died, but also how they lived. And it just takes one person, remembering one person. Just one. And then we are one person closer to remembering the 1+1+1.