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Dana Mitch: I Was Detached About My Family's Holocaust Story....Until I Went to Buchenwald

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 26, 2023 3:02 am

Dana Mitch: I Was Detached About My Family's Holocaust Story....Until I Went to Buchenwald

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 26, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Dana Mitch tells the story of her trip to Buchenwald, the largest concentration camp on German soil, and how she reconnected with her family because of it. 

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Requires credit qualification and 36-month phone financing agreement. And we return to our American stories. Up next, a story from writer Dana Mitch. Today, she shares a piece of her family's story, a piece that occurred in Buchenwald, one of the largest concentration camps and the largest on German soil.

Take it away, Dana. A few months ago, I stood at Buchenwald in a large open field that was covered in an endless expanse of rocky gray gravel. The ground that I gazed at before me was where the barracks once had been.

On that unnaturally humid and sunny afternoon, thunder ominously clapped from heavy storm clouds that loomed off in the distance. The skies certainly echoed my state of mind. As for anyone that visits a concentration camp, it was a particularly sobering and gut-wrenching experience. But for me, it was more than just emotional.

It was personal. Why was I there? To learn about my grandfather who had stood on that very ground some 78 years prior and reconnect with his life, his journey, his story. The morning after Kristallnacht at the age of 25, my grandfather was arrested by the SS and taken to Buchenwald as a part of the special pogrom, the first ever mass deportation and interment of Jews at that camp. He arrived on November 13, 1938, before the barracks were even built. And for three or four days and nights, he waited among 10,000 other Jews in the freezing winter rain to receive a roof over his head and a 20 centimeter wide wooden sleeping plank. Many who were there with him during that time didn't survive, and I will always remember the tears that came to my grandfather's eyes in the video interview we have of him, as he hesitatingly rehashed the horrors that befell those around him, frequently and at random. He was one of all too few who was miraculously able to flee Germany during the Holocaust, and I owe my life to his luck. But his journey wasn't over when he got to the United States. Mere weeks after officially becoming an American, he was drafted into the army. He was shipped off to Europe, back into the eye of the storm, just five years after his time at Buchenwald.

And as a soldier in a replacement depot, despite only having gone through basic training, no infantry training, he was nevertheless thrown into combat during the Battle of the Bulge. He fought against the Nazis with the ultimate goal of invading his homeland and, yet again, narrowly lived to tell the tale. He ended up living a very full life. He passed away in 1999 at the age of 85, when I was just 11 years old. But as for my return to Buchenwald, it was actually another more recent death in the family that served as the catalyst.

By the time I stood on the same ground that my grandfather had this past September, my father had been gone from us for nine months. He was my grandfather's firstborn, and he had wanted to be able to share his dad's heroic story with the world. So my visit, both to Buchenwald and also afterward to my grandfather's hometown, was to remember the two of them. My grandfather's persistence and my own father's admiration. It was to pay homage to the sacrifices they made and the pride they held in raising a family and continuing our lineage. The reasons behind my journey ebbed and flowed in my mind as I read a passage that was embedded in stone amongst the great gravel I stood on at the camp. It read, so that the generations to come might know, the children yet to be born, that they too may rise and declare to their children. As a member of the third generation of Holocaust survivors in the US, this struck a chord with me. Living now at a distance, both across generations and oceans, from the horrible tragedy that resulted from Hitler's Nazi regime, I had always felt somewhat detached from it.

In fact, few of my friends knew the extent of my grandfather's story. That is, until I recently chose to rise and declare it. And now, as my own father's firstborn, carrying forward his lineage, it's something that I too am committed to rising and declaring for future generations as well. There's something sacred about the kind of cycle created by generations, which is really just to say, people that share a heritage over time. And in Judaism, we observe these sacred cycles that connect us with our earliest ancestors in one way the most, through the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In that light, it should come as no surprise that the name of the book that we use on these holidays, the Machzor, shares the same root with the Hebrew word for return, chazarah. We reliably return to these traditions, thus completing a sacred cycle to remind us of all that we have inherited and all that we will carry forward.

When distilled down to their roots, that's what Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are all about, respectively. Remembering and thinking back on our past and looking into the future. As I stood at Buchenwald several months ago on the ground that held all that it did, my present moment joined together the history that came before me and my future yet to come. Through that return I made into a difficult past, one that altered destinies and set my own life into motion so many years ago, I began a kind of intergenerational remembering.

But I also felt that I began a kind of healing. Because in that moment I realized that even though my grandfather and father were both gone, I still carried parts of them within me that I would perpetuate into the future. This year, my hope is that we can all make our own important returns, whether they're on foot or in our minds. Because when we seek out the source of who we are, we end up moving forward into the new year with the two things that have always kept us firmly rooted. Remembrance and hope.

And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery, and a special thanks to Dana Mitch for sharing her journey to Buchenwald and what got her to do that, what prompted her to do that. She ended with two words, remembrance and hope, and it's hard to have one without the other. Memory is so important in our lives. Story, narrative, so important. As Reagan had said in his farewell speech, President Reagan, if we forget what we did, we'll forget who we are. And that wasn't a Republican statement or a Democrat statement.

It was a human statement. And Dana found herself at Buchenwald because her grandfather had been there, and she wanted to honor his journey. And he got out of there miraculously and found himself back at the Battle of the Bulge, not many years later, going after Hitler. And what did she learn from that? In the end, she learned her own story.

She was learning more about her father's story, first born to the grandfather, and connecting it all. It's what we do here in our American stories as best as we can each and every day. Stories of remembrance, stories of hope. And we want your stories, your stories of remembrance and hope. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com.

That's OurAmericanStories.com. Sad ones, happy ones, everything in between. But boy, if there isn't a struggle through some pain and suffering, well, you're leaving some things out. Dana Mitchell's story, the story of her family, the story of Jewish families around the world. And in the end, the story of all of our families.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-03 13:25:58 / 2023-10-03 13:31:20 / 5

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