Beyond Silence: Rediscovering the Heroes in My Family's Holocaust Story

Today marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a solemn occasion of deep personal significance for me and countless others. I feel compelled to share my family's story in memory of the victims.

My grandmother, the elder sister of twin brothers Hugo and Albert, seldom spoke about the pain and guilt she carried from her 20s. In an attempt to shield her brothers from the Nazi forces, she transported them to the Netherlands, believing they would be safe. Tragically, the Germans invaded Holland in 1942, leading to the immediate arrest and subsequent sending of the boys to the gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camp. On September 30th, 1942, at just 22 years old, they perished. My grandmother rarely spoke about this heartbreaking chapter, which left me feeling powerless as a child, unable to comprehend the weight of her guilt.

My grandmother is pictured here with her daughter, my mother, on her wedding day. My grandmother is wearing a green gown with white gloves. my mother is wearing her beautiful white wedding dress and is carrying her bouquet. Despite the happy occasion, she is not smiling. She was known to be a rather stoic woman.
                                      My grandmother, pictured with my mother on her wedding day.

Other members of my family also endured the horrors of those times. My maternal grandfather and granduncle by marriage were both incarcerated in concentration camps. Both men were captured during the Kristallnacht

My grandfather faced captivity in Dachau, and my granduncle in Buchenwald. Miraculously, my grandfather escaped after 1-2 months, and my great uncle after 2-3 weeks. However, the twins, unfortunately, met their tragic end in Auschwitz.

This is a picture of my twin granduncles, Hugo and Albert Sommer when they were young. Their lives tragically ended in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. They were only 22
                                                       My granduncles, Albert and Hugo in their youth. 

During this past Thanksgiving dinner, my family and I participated in a campaign to symbolically set a place at the table for the Israeli hostages unable to be with their families. This gesture got the family discussing my great uncles who were murdered in the camps. As we discussed my great uncles, my family uncovered a letter from 1938 shedding light on the last few years of their lives.

A detective hired by my cousins provided insights into their circumstances, describing them as “kind, not feeble minded and very very timid” while they worked at a landscaping school. He reported that he was somewhat confident that they would be able to be released, get a visa and move to America. Sadly, none of the twins were able to be let go. One had the opportunity to escape, but his brother who had a disability didn't, and in an act of selflessness, he made the decision to stay with his brother, even if that meant remaining in danger, and ultimately, both lost their lives. Learning of their heroism and shared love filled me with pride and immense sadness. I know that they faced their fate with purpose and selflessness.

This is a copy of a letter written by a detective who went to check on my granduncles, Hugo and Albert as he assessed whether or not he would be able to get them out of Europe and to the US during the Holocaust.

This is a piece of the letter written by the detective hired to check on Hugo and Albert. 

Sharing my family's pictures and records is an attempt to humanize these experiences. Hugo and Albert were not just a section in a history book; they were vibrant young men whose lives were cut short by senseless hate—a hate that persists today. I believe it is my duty to speak up, to be a voice for the voiceless, and to pay homage to my granduncles, even though I never had the chance to meet them. 

There has been an enormous amount of unspoken anxiety and fear that still goes on today. This repressed trauma is something that I was also able to witness in one of my ex-significant other, whose father survived a concentration camp for 7 years in his adolescence. Similarly to my family, it was barely spoken about, and his father who had him later in life kept the painful details more private.

This is a picture of my grandparents, who fled Germany during the holocaust and settled in New Jersey.

This is an image of my grandparents. They were kind, but stoic people. They kept the pain and trauma from the horrors they faced deep within them, and forged ahead to build a life for themselves.

In both the historiographical and the psychoanalytical research on the subject, the Holocaust is perceived not as a finite event that took place in the past, but as one that continues to exist and affect the families of survivors and the Jewish people.

What is important to understand is that no matter what the details are, the trauma you go through continues to exist and affects the families of survivors and the Jewish population. It is crucial to prioritize self-care and mental health, approaching life with love and kindness. Living a purposeful life and expressing gratitude are powerful ways to navigate the lasting impact of such profound historical events.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial to share stories that spread awareness. With the rise of hate and anti-semitism in today's world, I can't help but feel concerned that the current climate may soon resemble the struggles my ancestors faced. To do my part in fighting against it, I am committed to leading with love and educating others. Additionally, I would like to announce that I will be donating 20% of all sales on my Judaica Jewelry and other items sold site-wide to support organizations that combat anti-semitism. I invite you to join me in this fight.

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