- Yesterday (My Story)
Anyone working in the field of Holocaust scholarship, education, and remembrance knows all too well that we are the last to live in the presence of survivors. Those who were a mere 18 upon liberation are now 80 and those who were 30 are now 92, so there will come a time—all too soon—when the last survivor is no longer.
And yet, no generation has left as monumental a record behind. When the destruction was ongoing, historians and rabbis, chroniclers and ordinary men, women and children took it upon themselves to document what was happening, day-by-day, ghetto-by-ghetto, camp-by-camp. And afterwards, both in the immediate aftermath and for the next six decades, survivors bore witness. They wrote memoirs and gave testimony to assist future generation in the task of remembrance and to ensure that the record of what happened could be seen from the victim's perspective.
Even today, more than three score years after the Event, survivors continue to compile memoirs and to find ways in which they can be published. These testimonies have taken on an added urgency because survivors are acutely aware that their time is limited, their days numbered. The Angel of Death hovers and memories not transmitted will be lost—forever.
Therefore, one must welcome the grant from Random House that has enabled Elie Wiesel to facilitate and Menachem Rosensaft to undertake the publication of a limited number of memoirs, first under the auspices of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and now, after that partnership proved somewhat troublesome, at Yad Vashem.
We still need a project that is larger in scope and in vision that will collect all unpublished testimonies in archives worldwide, publish an on-line catalogue of these testimonies, scan them, and make them available with the technologies of "Publication on Demand" to scholars and students alike.
Among the first of the testimonies to be published is Hadassah Rosensaft's Yesterday (My Story), a project she initiated late in life and one that she did not live to see completed but which her son dutifully brought to its conclusion.
Most survivor testimonies are neatly divided into three chapters: Before, During, and After, detailing the three worlds that the author lived in: the world of his/her youth, which now tends to be idealized as a time of great tranquility and harmony; the world of the Shoah, ghettos, camps, death marches, culminating in liberation; and the post-Shoah world—the effort to recreate life, life [End Page 169] reborn in lands of freedom, the building of families, the establishment of community and the final act of bearing witness, so evident in this memoir.
The occasion of Hadassah Rosensaft's writing this memoir was her fear that her granddaughter Jodi would not know her story or would only receive information from the witnesses to the witness, from those who had heard Hadassah Rosensaft and retold her stories. So in essence Yesterday is an attempt at intergenerational transmission of memory.
The emphasis in each survivor's memoir differs. In part the emphasis is shaped by the depth of their recollections, by those events that are most deeply seared into their minds. In part, it is also clearly a manifestation of what they feel most comfortable sharing, of the memories they can most easily approach, most readily relate. In most memoirs the Holocaust itself is the centerpiece, the moments most deeply remembered, most significant to the transmission of memory. Not so with Rosensaft. Oddly, she relates the events of the Shoah with little affect, either toning down the emotion she felt or manifesting the numbness that she so poignantly described as essential to her emotional survival during the Holocaust. Her story is important. As a trained dentist she worked with Mengele and was witness to his awful activities and his notoriously mixed moods. Affable and cruel, he could appear kindly to inmates one day and order horrendous experiments and even death on the morrow.
Upon arrival at Auschwitz, her husband and her child were killed. She does not privilege the...