I am from the second generation after the Holocaust. I live in Poland
„Anti-Semitism has existed for thousands of years. Who looks for it, will find it. I don’t look for it. I can say that in Rzeszów and in Rymanów I feel very good. I do not feel unwanted, but just the opposite” – writes Małka Shacham DORON
.As long as I can remember, I have been asked if I am Polish. As I was born in Israel, I didn’t understand why I was asked this. Israel is a country made up of people from various parts of the world.
When I was four years old, I saw myself in a mirror for the first time, and I was in shock. I started to cry. My mother asked me why I was crying. I answered that I didn’t want to have blue eyes and white skin; I want to have brown eyes and dark skin like everyone else. When I went to preschool I started searching for my identity. It wasn’t just me. All kids start asking themselves where they come from, where their family comes from and why they are in Israel.
I’m from the second generation after the Holocaust. What I will write about also applies to others – those whose ancestors were born in Poland or in other countries of Europe. And so when I write “I,” I mean “we” — we, who were born after the Second World War in Israel and in other places.
This text is being written in Poland, not in Israel, and that’s important for me. I’m not a tourist. For ten years I’ve spent every August in Poland. Since August 2016 I’ve been living in Rymanów. I am learning another point of view on the history that I learned in Israel. From here everything looks different. Israel is far away, and I’m by myself. I have books and the Internet; and there are people here who want to talk with me. I am an Israeli Jew who went crazy and decided to live in Poland.
.I was born in Israel. My mom came from Rymanów, and my dad came from Kraków. They both survived the Holocaust.
My mom, Frida Stary, ran away in 1939 from Dynów to Russia, where she was sent to Siberia because she said she was Polish and that they owned a bakery in Iwonicz and Rymanów. Dad (a Muslim) was in the Ghetto in Kraków, and then in Częstochowa he passed through seven concentration camps, and regained freedom after being freed from Buchenwald by the Americans in 1945. He weighed thirty-six kilograms. After the war both of them returned to Poland and started to plan their lives together. Mom began her studies at Jagiellonian University. They got married in 1949. They went to Israel because they saw how communism was spreading in the country. Mom remembered what had happened in Russia.
And so I was the daughter of two immigrants who did not speak a word of Hebrew. They spoke to me in Yiddish so that I would not understand Polish. They tried to make me happy, to make sure I ate a lot, played, and learned how to play the violin.
Yom HaShoah was celebrated at school – Holocaust Day, always one week after the Israeli Independence Day. Since childhood all of us heard sirens on this day – everyone stands at attention at 11:00am, including all the children. Every year I was asked to read Abraham Śląski’s poem “Haneder”. He wrote about what happened many years ago. I could not understand how something like that was possible.
When I was ten years old, my mother gave me the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”. There were poems and drawings by children from the Theresienstadt ghetto. The book was first published by Hana Volavkova in Czechoslowakia, and then in Hebrew by Abba Kovner. This was the first proof for me of what happened in Theresienstadt. I remember on poem that made a special impression on me. Its author was Paweł Freidman. He wrote that he did not see butterflies there because butterflies do not live in ghettos. I walked to school with this book everyday, and showed it to all my classmates. I spoke about how my grandmother was probably there too and how there were children in the ghetto too. My teacher was thrilled.
When I was twelve years old, I found the diary of Anne Frank in a bookstore. It opened my heart and my soul. Anna just like me was a girl, liked to play and fell in love, but was shut away. And I was free. I felt a very strong spiritual bond with her. I felt unusually sad. I too wrote a diary, I too fell in love with a boy from class. I had a beautiful dress, I played a few hours every day on a violin, and I went to concerts. I could not understand why such a fate befell her. I began to ask my parents about the Holocaust – what happened there, how they survived. I did not get an answer. Dad said that if he told me, I would not understand. Mom promised that she would describe it all to me one day, but now I should go and play. I felt that there is some huge secret, that something is hidden.
Many people, uncles and aunts, came to our house. My parents introduced them to me – Aunt Franka, Aunt Lola, Uncle Isaac. But I knew that this was not my real family. I asked myself where all my real aunts, uncles, and grandparents were. Where are they? How many were there? What happened to them? I began to read books about the Holocaust; I began to look for myself.
.When I was ten years old, I ran away from home to the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. I phoned my mom at work from a pay phone, since we still didn’t have a phone at home. I left her a note in the kitchen so she wouldn’t worry about me. I wanted to see with my own eyes what a German looked like, what people looked like who organized the Holocaust, and how they tried them.
I looked at Eichmann, how he sat in the room, how he made faces. I remember that atmosphere, I remember those people. They did not want me to enter, children were not allowed in. Procurator Gideon Hausner said that he was not alone here, that six million Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust stood by him. I understood in that moment, that six million murdered souls were there, and among them over one million murdered children.
I listened to the subseqent witnesses and victims. I saw how Yehiel Dinur fainted during his testimony and how he was carried out of the room. Every day I phoned my mom at work so that mom wouldn’t come to Jerusalem and take me. I knew that something had changed.
When mom came for me to Jerusalem, I told her that it was really important that I was able to be there. I saw my whole family, and I knew where they were. They were spirits. I read all the books of Ka-Tsetnik (Yehiel Den-Nur) and all the books of Aharon Appelfeld. I looked for books about Polish cities (shtetls, “sifrei zikaron shel ayarot yehoudiot”), and I went to my parents to ask them if I could go with them on Remembrance Day to Rymanów. My parents refused. They told me to wait because I was too young.
I understood that over a million children died in the Holocaust. I started searching. When I went to high school, I decided that I would learn history as much as possible. I wanted to know everything. I was very naive. Textbooks weren’t enough for me. I wanted evidence, witnesses. I searched for people. It wasn’t easy to find them. Everyone was already Israeli, and they had new lives. They were no longer fearful Jews, afraid of anti-Semitism, pogroms, the Holocaust. They had new lives and a new nation.
I bore the grudge that Jews did not fight, that it was as though they were led into slaughter. When I found out that Jewish partisans existed, I was proud. We, the second generation in Israel, believed that we would not allow ourselves to be killed. I understood in the end what methods Germans used to make the Jews defenseless. When Germans made life hard, there was no will even to live.
On my high school examination I passed extended history with five out of five points. After my examination, when I joined the army, I understood, as all young people in Israel do that we need to serve the state, that we need to have a strong army, so that the Holocaust would never happen again. I did not want history to repeat itself in another form to me, to my children. The future of Israel was our history, so that Jews would no longer be a minority, that we would have our own country.
.When I returned from the army, I looked at my owned family from the outside. I noticed that there were psychological problems, problems with eating, behavioural problems and health problems. No one knew how to deal with the problems of the Holocaust. In the army I got to know other people whose families did not survive the Holocaust. I understood that Israel was made up of people who survived the Holocaust and immigrated. Their descendants were afraid. I was not the only one.
The Holocaust was a taboo topic; it was in the sub-text of life in Israel. Today you could live, and tomorrow not. Nothing is for sure. In every moment someone could come after us, war could break out. As a new generation we knew that everything must be done at one hundred percent so as to be ready for the worst. When something did not work out, even the simplest things – sports practice, games, some form of play – then we felt as if a tragedy had occurred. When we got sick, we had to get better right away. Parents said: “When there will be a selection, how will you fare?”
The Holocaust was still in the background. Everything was done so as to be healthy and ready for the worst. I understood this only in the army, when I could see my family from another perspective, when I met people who did not have the Holocaust experience our family did. When I was twenty years old after military service, my parents invited me to see their will. They were already ready to die.
I read many psychology related articles about the second and third generation after the Holocaust. Stress is still ongoing. Two American psychologists – Ryan Rosenthal and Stuart Rosenthal – studied people from both of these generations. Dr. Anna Baranowsky from Canada dealt with trauma, developing a model of behaviour of the second and third generation. Those traumas stem from how these children and grandchildren have the need, obsession even, to find out and understand what happened. When parents don’t want to say anything, even the silence resounds. The child feels that something happened – they feel that they do not have grandparents, they do not have family. If the generation that survived the Holocaust does not pass it on this brings trauma to future generations. Girls receive more trauma from parents than boys.
In Israel Dr. Nathan Dorset started the Amha foundation helping victims of the Holocaust. Dorset affirms that the second and third generation hears and understands more than the first generation. In Israel people didn’t speak about the Holocaust. When people from the first generation grew old, they began to tell grandchildren about their childhood and the years of the war. They transmit the truth of the Holocaust to their grandchildren: that those who perished do not have graves or tombstones and no trace is left of them.
I met Amira Guttfreunda in the Israeli army. He too is a representative of the second generation and the author of the book “Our Holocaust”. I noticed that the common experiences tied to our generation unite us. Our families were similar. Guttfreund published a book in 2000 – a novel with autobiographical themes. In the book he described people whom he knew that survived the Holocaust. They desired that their children would lead peaceful lives. In his book the characters are not black and white. The main character carries a secret. His grandfather, Lolek, who is very stingy, does not want to give to charity. His other grandfather on the other hand wants to live like a Polish farmer in Israel. When I read that book, I found out that I am not alone. There are many others like me and something ought to be done about it.
.Turning to my mother, I told her she ought to publish “Paul’s Diary” (Zeszyt Paula) – in Polish and Hebrew. When she died, I wondered what to do next. In cooperation with the community of Rymanów, we formed Days of Remembrance in Rymanów and a March of Remembrance – Poles and Jews together with the cooperation of the city’s authorities.
Together with my son Omrim, we bought the house of my great grandfather Abraham Stary. The building was in ruins, ready for demolition. We restored it. People really helped us.
From this year on I am teaching Israeli culture at the University of Rzeszów.
Each year in August many people from the whole world arrive in Rymanów. Jews and non-Jews. From France, from Hong Kong, from the United States. These people have experience with suffering, because these sorts of tragedies occur all over the world – Jews, Lemkos, Romas. When a dictator comes to power, he disregards all minorities and creates a “Babel”. Everything that we do to remember the Holocaust in Rymanów we do as the “Meeting of Rymanów”. This includes Poles, with whom we are cooperating, and we are all friends! Not long ago I also formed a foundation called “Love – Ahawa” (Miłość – Ahawa), which began in 2018.
People understand us. In Rymanów we open our doors and hearts to everyone. We invite everyone and organize various events – the opening the of the Jewish House, Jewish weddings, Jewish holidays, the March of Remembrance, there are lectures, musicians, workshops, dances, songs, Sabbath dinners. Together with the local pastor and rabbi, we pray together. We honour the memory of Maria and Piotr Bolanowski, who saved Jews. Let us thank God that there are people like that, who do not stand aside but help. We pray together, side by side. First of all, we are human beings.
Anti-Semitism has existed for thousands of years. Who looks for it will find it. I don’t look for it. I can say that in Rzeszów and Rymanów I feel very good. I do not feel unwanted, but just the opposite. I see a lot of interest. People ask about the Jewish cause, about Israel.
In his book “Poland, Green Country” professor Aharon Appelfeld writes about the second generation. The main character can sense the family crisis. He goes from Israel to Poland, to beautiful Poland. He feels that he ought to find out about the truth about his parents. He comes to the village where his parents were born. He meets Magda, a peasant. She tells him that when she was young, she worked at his parent’s place. She knew his parents very well. She saw how his family was murdered with all Jews of the village. The main character remains in the village, he remembers and thinks about what happened. He falls in love with Magda. He comes to know her life. Despite her difficult life, the woman remained human. When he sees this, he begins to analyze himself and his life. This is a story about the love of mature people. About destiny. Each of them is at a crossroads. They have no illusions; they have a realistic approach to life. They do not lie and they do not have illusions about themselves. This book is also about me.
.Now, when I am in Poland, I see things from a different perspective: my life, my family, the Holocaust, Polish-Jewish relations. I see how much we have in common. Poles also suffered a lot in this war. There were those who knew how to use it, but there are always such people. I really appreciate the Poles whom I have come to know in Rymanów and Rzeszów. Each day that I experience in Poland, I learn something new.
You must know where you come from and where you are going, where you stand and before whom you must give an account of your life. You were born out of a drop. (Mishnah)
Małka Shacham Doron