I was fortunate enough to know this lovely woman who was my teacher and a friend of my parents’ who was a Holocaust survivor. This is her story and memory…never forget:
“We Must Remember”
Halina Wind Preston
December 2, 1979
Freedom Plaza, Wilmington, Delaware
This afternoon, the survivor hears voices no one else can detect — voices that were silenced 35 years ago. The last time we heard them, they all echoed the same request: You who survive, be sure to tell the world.
Painfully vivid in my memory is the moment my family and I parted: I on my way into the unknown, under a new identity, disguised as a Christian; they, the last remaining Jews in town, awaiting their fate.
There was no goodbye, no hug or kiss. Only a sense of urgency, a sense of mission. It was impressed upon me that there was to be more to my survival than escaping death at a young age. Their last testament was: “Someone must make it in order to tell the world. You will have to tell the world.”
Some of us survived, and the fulfillment of that last request of our dear ones became a sacred duty. To have experienced the Nazi Holocaust and to remain silent would mean to be dead. Silence on the part of a survivor constitutes treason to those who would have screamed out, but were silenced.
In those days, we did not scream. If you look closely at photographs from the Holocaust, you’ll notice no one screaming. We hear their cries in our conscience. But at the time, we already had been conditioned not to show our emotions, not to react. Today, in freedom, we can and must cry out and protest the atrocities committed against our people. We must keep their memory alive. We must work to make this a world in which genocide can never happen again.
It is difficult to imagine a country where murder is not only legal, but mandatory. The Jews were Germany’s most loyal citizens. They loved their country and served it well.
But a new government passed new laws, and one of them was that Jews had no right to live. As other countries were overrun by the Nazis, their Jews too were murdered. And by the time the Allies liberated those territories, two out of every three Jews in Europe had been killed. Of Europe’s 8 1/2 million Jews, 2 1/2 million were left by 1945. Thirty-five thousand cities, towns and hamlets had been purged of Jews.
This, then, was the physical balance of the 12-year rule of Hitler’s super-race. And who could possibly attempt to estimate the spiritual and intellectual devastation it left in its wake?
The survivor of the Holocaust wanted to forewarn the world that what happened in Europe was an abomination, the likes of which the world had never seen before.
We knew it was a first, but would it also be the last? Only, we concluded, if it is internalized and eternalized with all its gory, chilling details, only if it is remembered as the absolute nadir of western civilization, only then can another Holocaust be prevented.
The survivor may have attempted at times to still the voices of his past, in order to accommodate the present and maybe even dream of a future. But this could only be possible if one were certain that someone else has accepted the responsibility of bearing witness to the Event, of spreading knowledge of the Holocaust, of perpetuating the memory of the victims.
In my nightmares, I’m often caught by the enemy. But I’m always aware that this is a second time. And I reproach myself for having been so naive or negligent as not to have learned from my first experience, not to have taken some precaution. How could I have been misled into another Holocaust? I certainly should have known better.
It is now 35 years later, and the survivor and in recent years historians, theologians and other scholars as well insist on perpetuating the memory of the Holocaust, because the world persists in its evil ways, as if the Holocaust never happened. If the world had learned the lessons of the Holocaust, if its conscience had been stirred by the ultimate atrocity, perhaps we could have prevented the Biafra, the Bangladesh, the Cambodia of subsequent years. The evils of our post-Holocaust world have been made possible because humanity’s senses have been numbed.
The survivor views events through the prism of the Holocaust. Justice and injustice, individual or collective, are weighed on the scale of mercy or evil experienced during that time.
So must the world view events in the context of the Holocaust, if it hopes to prevent another one. If we accept the premise that had Hitler won the war all of civilization would have crumbled, then it follows that everyone is a survivor. And it behooves all of us to view and review the Holocaust as the catalyst it must become toward a better and more humane world.
I can foresee a time when the history of the Holocaust, like the Bible, will be translated into every tongue, and taught and studied in every classroom in the world.
More than that, just as the Jewish Bible contains the birth and early history of the Jews, and just as the Christian Bible contains the birth and early history of the Christians, so will the Holocaust someday enter the canon as the turning point in the unfolding histories of the two religions. The enormity of the schism of which the Holocaust was the culmination demands no less.
We are here today to dedicate a monument. It is a deeply emotional moment for the survivor. The town squares of Nazi Europe served other purposes. Many of them were the central locations to round up the Jews for their final deportation. If I closed my eyes, I’d have no problem recalling the roundup in my own hometown.
But Wilmington is our new hometown. We have taken it to our hearts, as much as it has adopted us.
If we survivors could have visualized this moment, our suffering at that time would have been greatly eased. But all we felt then was our aloneness and our loneliness. I only regret that the experience of this dedication cannot be communicated to our martyrs. Or can it?
Perhaps their ashes would rest more peacefully in the knowledge that here in America, the land they had so trusted, in town after town a spot is being set aside to remember them and their martyrdom.
And what will be the function of this monument? Whatever we, and future generations, will make it to be.
Symbolically, it represents the torture and murder of a man, a woman and a child, two million times over.
But its broader function is to remind, to warn, to inspire. It stands here not only as a silent witness to a shameful and abhorrent past, but to alert new generations to be ever vigilant not to take the country’s freedoms for granted, because governments can be overthrown and constitutions rewritten.
We hope, moreover, that it will be the spot not only to reflect upon the past, but to draw inspiration, wisdom and strength to continue the battle for a moral and righteous world.
Even as we dedicate this monument, we rededicate ourselves to the pledge we made to our martyrs, the two words inscribed on the memorial on the site of the first Nazi concentration camp at Dachau: Never Again!
Never again must Jews or anyone else be made into raw material and play dough in the hands of the world’s political, racial and religious tyrants.
We are determined to work for a world in which there will be no more Holocausts, a world which will have no super-race and no inferior race, no true religion and no false religion — only one G-d and one humanity.
And as long as the voices of the martyrs beseech us to tell the world, we shall continue to erect Holocaust memorials of stone and iron, until we finish building the ultimate memorial: A just and peaceful world.
© 1979 Halina Wind Preston