Saturday, March 2, 2024 -
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Confluence of memory

Maybe it was being a young child in Jerusalem, or maybe it’s simply part of Jewish DNA, but I’ve always been fascinated by history. In high school, I was fortunate to have an amazing history teacher, Mrs. Pamela Wolfe, who deepened this fascination. And living in the DC area opened up all kinds of avenues to connect to American history — outings to the Mall’s majestic monuments, a school trip to Harper’s Ferry, visiting Arlington Cemetery. Since I was only age six when I left Jerusalem, the DC outings were the first time that gave me the feeling of standing on soil of historic importance.

When I was a teen, March of the Living was brand new. Visiting concentration camps wasn’t the norm it has become. But not only that kept me away. The Holocaust was too close to me; aside from one sibling each, my maternal grandparents were the sole survivors of their families. I did not feel the need to, nor knew whether I could handle, visiting the site of their extermination.

Instead, the battlefields of WW I became my passion. Most of the sites were British, French, German — and yes, there were Jewish soldiers in all of their forces — but on the drive back from the Somme to Switzerland, we stopped at St. Mihiel, the site of the most significant battle in which the American Expeditionary Force was involved. The Jewish headstones and monuments had already personalized the pilgrimage, but being in that American cemetery hit me differently. There is a beautiful rotunda there, reminding me of my favorite Washington monument, the Jefferson Memorial. Engraved in the circle of the dome is: “Their devotion, their valor, and their sacrifices will live forever in the hearts of their grateful countrymen.”

Memorial Day began to mean something far more to me than a day off. I began reflecting on my grandfather’s military service, which provided him a path of integration into US society.

This year, Memorial Day weekend overlaps with Shavuot, and while that holiday represents the Jewish people at their most formative moment, a kind of ecstasy, for Hungarian Jews Shavuot is stained with sadness. It is when the mass of Hungarian Jews in 1944 were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Most of them, those not selected for slave labor, were immediately gassed to death — many of my relatives included, some of them toddlers.

To this day, I have never trod on the soil of Auschwitz, but I did make a pilgrimage to the train station from which some of my ancestors were deported on that fateful Shavuot in 1944. On this Shavuot-Memorial Day confluence, my personal and national ancestors of both sides of my identity — Jewish and American — will be remembered.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected]

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