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Thu Apr 19, 2012, 11:38 AM

Knowing Jack: Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012

My grandfather, Jack, will never forget the day his father was shot to death in a city park in Gryb˛w, Poland, by a notorious Nazi named Hamann as he watched through a small office window. It was Jack's 22nd birthday. Next week he will celebrate his 92nd in Sarasota, Florida. Not a day has passed in the 70 years in between that Grandpa hasn't remembered what has come to be called the Holocaust. Today is the day designated by Congress for the rest of us to remember the grisly fate that befell the Jewish people of Europe under Hitler and his willing accomplices -- Holocaust Remembrance Day. But how can we in 2012 America begin to comprehend the events of that far off place and time?

For the past several decades Jack has spoken to schoolchildren and Jewish groups to tell his story, to put a human face and name to the outsize numbers and foreign locales of the Holocaust. Jack knows he belongs to that small and shrinking group of survivors who were old enough then to really understand what was happening and young enough now to still be alive and able to tell their stories. But, Jack is getting older. He's tired. This year, he told me, he doesn't have the energy to do it. Jack still feels his obligation to bear witness. He still fears what will happen when no survivors are left to testify about what they lived through. He just doesn't have the energy to do it. This year, Jack asked me to tell his story.

Though I've called him Grandpa all my life, Jack is not my real grandfather. Rather, he is my real grandfather in every sense of the word except biological. I never knew my mother's father; he was murdered by the Nazis in the Vilna ghetto or the killing fields of the Ponari forest just outside the city now called Vilnius, Lithuania. Of all the family on my mother's side, only my grandmother and my mother survived. They came to New York in June 1946 aboard the S.S. Marine Perch. It was on the deck of that ship that Jack first saw my grandmother. By the time I was born my grandmother had been married to Jack for more than 20 years.


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