The Nature of Survivorship
The more time that elapses from the end of war, the less we remember about the gruesome events that contributed to it and the victims of its cruelty. The gut emotions expressed by war’s eyewitnesses no longer remain to help us understand it from a visceral perspective.
For example, all we know today about the American Civil War is the pictorial and written evidence, the property, land, and bodies of water that remain inexorably changed by the ravages of human conflict, and the souvenirs and tales of tragedy and horror handed down through the generations. We are now many generations away from the human experience of that war.
So it is now regarding the Holocaust. The vast majority of those who were alive during the Holocaust are no longer living and can no longer offer their first-hand accounts of human sacrifice, loss, barbarism, and terror. Yet those of us who are their progeny live on and can testify to growing up with the aftereffects of such brutality – the absence of family members and the physical and emotional toll of human loss on our parents and, in turn, on us. The pain of oppression, even second-hand, is never forgotten.
The respect and admiration for our parents, now that we are older adults, know no boundaries. They were, indeed, the survivors of one of the most heinous events that has ever occurred on the face of the earth. We were fortunate to have been born after those awful events and can never claim survivorship, although sometimes we are mistakenly or cynically called fake survivors, as I have been, by those who deny the Holocaust ever occurred. However, to call us survivors would be an affront to our parents, who valiantly clung to life, only wishing to shield us from experiencing any of the pain and sorrow they bore in their hearts.
Therefore, it is important in these times, seventy-four years after the Holocaust, to understand the nature of survivorship. We must distinguish between those who somehow survived through the anguish of discrimination and degradation, and the proof is undeniable, and those of us who have made no such claims, yet still live with the aftermath in our souls.
Hanna Perlstein Marcus
Hanna Perlstein Marcus is the author of Sidonia’s Thread and Surviving Remnant, and a consultant to the museum exhibit: “Sidonia’s Thread, Crafting a Life from Holocaust to High Fashion.”