The genealogy adventure can lead to all kinds of unforeseen places. Cold trails can become warm, or even hot, like the discovery of a new relative.
There has always been an air of mystery around my maternal grandparents’ families. That might sound intriguing, but the reality is bitter: Nearly all of them were murdered in the Holocaust.
My grandfather, specifically, chose to set his sights forward, and spoke almost nothing about the past. My grandmother, however, told us far more about her family, so the trails are warmer. So warm, in fact, that I recently found a first cousin of hers, a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to the US.
The ultimate gift was that he recorded an interview with the Shoah Foundation.
It’s hard to explain the excitement at this discovery — we would be able to hear the voice of a person who grew up in the same small Hungarian village as my grandmother, who would talk about the same people, the same environment that she called home. It felt like an unexpected jackpot — as if I’d won last week’s Mega Millions without even buying a ticket.
Listening to this man’s testimony was heart-rending, and something I will have to unpack over time and with multiple viewings. But it made me feel so connected to my family, and to my roots.
It also brought home in such a personal way how important the efforts of the Shoah Foundation are. Not only do these interviews provide evidence of the Nazi genocide, but they are a harsh reminder that every Nazi victim — those who survived and those were murdered — were individuals, each with his or her own story, perspectives and experiences.
It makes one reflect on all the horrendous tragedies in the world, some of them severely underreported, much as the Holocaust was. The Second Congo War, for example, which cost upwards of five million lives.
I remember when I read that it ranked among the 10 deadliest conflicts in history — and it took place in my lifetime. Yet, I knew almost nothing about it. It was barely reported on and even as violence continues there today, little coverage is found in major news outlets.
But each of those five million people were also individuals, with families, interests and dreams — not just numbers. Maybe one day those victims’ stories will also be known.
I hope the Shoah Foundation’s work will be replicated by other communities who were victims of genocide and war.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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