Hugo Rifkind Hugo Rifkind

What it means to be descended from Holocaust survivors

This is a short piece on Holocaust Memorial Day, and what it means to be descended from Holocaust survivors. Many, many people could write a story like this, but this one is mine.

All parts of my family lost people in the war. My grandfather, though, lost pretty much his whole family. They were in Krakow, in Poland, and only he and one brother survived. His first wife, his baby daughter, his parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews all died.

To understand the immediacy, that’s my mum’s half-sister, grandparents, her whole extended family. All gone before she was even born.

Recently, I’ve been trying to find out about them. It’s really hard. My grandpa died when I was three, and I gather he didn’t like to talk about the past much. So, now, there are only really two sources.

One is a record of births, marriages and deaths from Krakow, but it’s pretty muddy. The other is the testimonies of the dead left to the Holocaust museum at Yad Vashem by my great uncle, my grandpa’s brother, who fled to Brazil after the war.

That’s priceless, but fairly muddy, too. Particularly vexing is the lack of mention of my grandpa’s first wife and daughter, probably because they died at the hands of Russians, not Germans. We’re not even certain of their names. To repeat, that’s my aunt. No names.

The one I fixate on is Ryszard, the child of my mum’s uncle. He died aged nine. That’s the age of my own eldest kid. The ‘circumstances of death’ box for Ryszard says ‘Actions against children in Podgorze Ghetto’. I think about him a lot. It seems very important to remember him.

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