“Never Forget.” It is a phrase that virtually every Jewish American kid has heard growing up, let alone every American. But what does it mean to remember something, truly? Is it to remember that World War II was Hitler’s Nazis versus the victimized Jews? To remember six million Jews died? That something terrible happened?
Growing up as the granddaughter of two Holocaust survivors, I have been exposed to a lot of literature about the Holocaust. I was given a copy of Anne Frank’s diary when I was in third grade; I read Eli Wiesel’s Night when I was fourteen; I went with my middle school to Washington DC and walked through the US Holocaust Memorial Museum; I watched Schindler’s List in my senior AP US History class; I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel, after my sophomore year of college. My knowledge of what happened in the 1930s and 40s in Eastern Europe has mostly been based on what I have seen in the movies, heard in my classes, read in books.
I have always been proud of my heritage - of knowing that both of my dad’s parents survived the Holocaust - but I have never really engaged with their stories. It just seemed too hard, too heartbreaking. But now I am ready to take a closer look at the people who survived, who raised my father, who made my life in America possible.
For this project, I spent many hours with recorded tapes from the Shoah Foundation – tapes of my grandparents explaining what really happened to them during the Holocaust. Many images from their stories struck me as familiar: the smoke rising from the crematoriums, the families hiding in an attic, the terrible conditions of the ghettos, the lack of food, the hard working conditions, the barracks of the concentration camps. I had encountered these images many times before. But there were also new details I had never come across about the War in both of their stories.
I have decided to work on this project as means of truly engaging with the history of the Holocaust, and with my own personal, family history. I hope to move beyond “never forgetting,” and to instead remember and preserve a history that, in the future, could be reduced to symbols, signifying nothing.
In the following pages, I explore the survival stories of both my grandfather, Leon Henson, and my grandmother, Enid Henson. Then, I take a look at my own points of reference of Holocaust imagery and discuss what gaps in my understanding of my grandparents' stories existed prior to the research for this project. Finally, I end with a discussion of the implications of relying on Holocaust representations and why engagement and preservation truly matters.