Never Forget: International Holocaust Remembrance Day from my perspective as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor

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Isabel Engel

Isabel’s Omi, Margot, at age 2 sitting on her aunt’s lap, surrounded by family who perished.

Isabel Engel, Executive Editor

January 27 marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This date, which was chosen to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau where about 1.1 million people were slaughtered in the Holocaust, presents an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of the Holocaust, its victims, and its survivors. 

The motto of the Holocaust Museum, which is engraved on its walls is, “Never forget.” I cannot and never will forget.

My mom, dad, and I sat together in my grandparents’ basement, packing up my Omi and Opa’s things as they prepared to move to Washington in 2012. We sorted through old clothes, CDs, and letters before discovering an unseen black leather photo album. My mom picked it up and flipped through the pages: we saw my grandmother as a child, my great-grandparents, and pictures of their prior life in Germany. 

Then, we saw a picture of my grandmother at about two years old. She was sitting on someone’s lap, surrounded by people neither my Mom nor I recognized. My grandparents identified them for us: they were family members we had never met and my grandparents had not told us about. 

Nine years later, I now know those people are just some of the members of my family that perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The album’s black and white images depict tight-knit cousins, family members smiling together on an ordinary afternoon. Little did they know the pictures would serve as reminders of lives cut far too short—a fate they could not have possibly envisioned. My grandmother was one of two in the picture who survived past 1945. 

Isabel and her Omi together in 2007.

My identity as a young Jewish adult is largely informed by my identity as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and the descendant of about thirty relatives who were murdered in concentration camps. My grandfather was born in Dusseldorf in 1926. He grew up as Hitler ascended to power and was subject to attacks simply because he was Jewish. He narrowly escaped Germany in 1938, just two months before Kristallnacht. My grandmother was born in America but her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins remained in Europe. Though my grandparents survived, the rest of my family was not so fortunate.

Every year, this day is an emotional one as I think about my family who perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau (and other concentration camps) and honor the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. In the Jewish community, it is recognized as a day to “never forget.” This year, though, it means so much more. 

Exactly three weeks following unprecedented insurrection at the nation’s Capitol (during which rioters boasted antisemitic propaganda), we observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Now, more than ever, it is important to remember that white supremacy and antisemitism are on the rise. We have much room to grow. 

I urge you to take today as an opportunity to reflect, to acknowledge the lives lost, and to pledge to “never forget.”