Torch Passed To Second Generation Of Arizona Holocaust Survivors
As the population of World War II Holocaust survivors dwindles, the torch is being passed to the next generation to tell their stories.
This second generation grew up living with the grief and melancholy of their parents who may have survived the war, but in many cases lost everything, including family members.
A group in Arizona is trying to keep their memories alive so that future generations can continue the mantra of “never forget.”
The four Valley residents met on a gorgeous St. Patrick’s Day Sunday afternoon in Scottsdale, among revelers clad in green, mixed with baseball fans on the streets of Old Town.
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But inside the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, there was a far different tone.
A solemn one.
“The tattooed number, witness to a horrible past, suddenly scrambles in my eyes and cripples my ability to remember. Ones, fives, threes — an arrangement of digits my mind cannot, will not, ever sort. One family, one home, destroyed,” reads Janice Freibaum from a poem she wrote about the mysterious tattoo on her father Morris’ arm.
It was something that was readily seen, but not ever discussed.
“The Holocaust was very present and extremely silent in our home. I refer to it as the presence of the absence. There was so much missing in our lives, but it was never spoken about.”
"The Holocaust was very present and extremely silent in our home."
— Janice Freibaum
Friebaum’s father was the lone survivor in an entire family that was wiped out in the concentration camps of Treblinka.
David Asser grew up in the Netherlands. His father Elias, who died in January, also was reticent to divulge many details about his early life.
“He never told me about anything. I didn’t even know what my grandfather looked like,” Asser said. “I still don’t have a picture in my head as to what my grandfather looked like.”
Linda Pressman’s parents also had a horrific story, though most of her family made it out alive and were openly candid about their experiences.
“I had grandparents, I had aunts and uncles, they all talked to each other about it non-stop. The idea that I could escape hearing about it was absolutely not going to happen.”
Deborah Sussman arranged the readings of second generation Survivors. Her father Peter took a more measured approach to discussing his own shattered childhood.
“My two brothers and I didn’t really hear about it until we were old enough to hear about it. And he delivered it in age appropriate ways at different times in our lives.”
While each parent had different method of imparting the grief of the Holocaust to their children, these four second generation survivors are trying to keep their memories—and the memory of other Holocaust survivors alive, by speaking for them.
“It was basically having everything that made life worth living taken away and I don’t think people understand that,” Sussman adds.
For Janice Friebaum, whose father lost his entire family and stayed silent in his suffering, she feels an obligation to do what he simply couldn’t.
“I needed to compensate for what my father wasn’t able to do. So, I do feel a bit more responsibility — no, a lot more responsibility — now that my father has passed away to tell about his experiences.”
Despite her parents openness to discuss their wartime experiences, Linda Pressman has a different reason for sharing their sorrow.
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“I was extremely careful about how I let the story get through to my children — because my mom had traumatized all seven of us,” Pressman said.
“The end result was that our family went skittering away from Judaism because it wasn’t safe to be Jewish.”
Pressman, who has self-published a memoir of life growing up as the child of survivors, says she learned a hard lesson about withholding information from her children.
“One day I was sitting with my daughter at some restaurant, and she said to me — she must have been 6 or 7 at the time — and she said ‘when you survived the Holocaust, did you throw a party’ (laughs) and I was like maybe I held too much back, because she didn’t understand anything.”
"The Holocaust is not just about the concentration camps, the Holocaust began long before that with the othering of people."
— Deborah Sussman
For David Asser, having just lost his father recently, he still isn’t sure what his responsibility is yet.
“I didn’t try to burden my kids with all of this and give them a new perspective and a freedom that they didn’t have to live all of this, but that might change now that dad’s not here. So, I’ll have to give it time and see how it goes.”
And For Deborah Sussman the old stories also have a modern-day meaning.
“The Holocaust is not just about the concentration camps, the Holocaust began long before that with the othering of people,” Sussman said.
“That’s one of the reasons why I want to share my father’s writing, because my father is very, very clear about that.”
In Arizona, it’s estimated fewer than 100 first-generation survivors remain.
Some of them will get together on Sunday, March 24, at Cafe Europa Phoenix for an occasional gathering of the few left to tell the story first-hand.
It’s a story that their children will now be called on to tell more and more to ensure new generations never forget what happened.