Becoming the 'voices'
of Holocaust survivors
of Holocaust survivors
by staff writer
Some time in the near future, around 2045 or so, the last known Holocaust survivor will pass away, and there will be no more people to tell the story of what happened in those dark days in Europe. When I asked two people recently about this, Kansas City Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn (pronounced as "cook-your-corn") and his reporter friend Bill Tammeus, a Christian man who write a blog about religions issues now, they told me there were some important things to consider.
"When that happens, we -- folks who have told the story of survivors -- will become their voice," Tammeus told San Diego Jewish World in a email.
"When Rabbi Cukierkorn and I finished writing our co-authored book, ''They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust,'' we were aware that the number of Holocaust survivors was dwindling," Tammeus said. "We needed to tell these stories while the survivors -- and members of the families who saved them -- still were around. And we just made it. Already several of the people featured in our book have become of blessed memory -- one even before the book formally was published in late 2009."
"As we worked on the book, Jacques and I talked about the fact that as these people die, we become their voice," Tammeus said. "We become the tellers of their stories. We become among their representatives. Part of the reason for that is that in several cases they told us more than their own families ever knew. We were honored to be trusted with their stories. And now that some of them are gone, it is our responsibility to make sure they and their stories are not forgotten. So we continue to talk about and promote our book."
Rabbi Cukierkorn said that writing the book six years ago was a labor of love.
"My feeling is that human nature is such that people tend to value people after they are gone," he told me. "Things like people saying 'I wish that I had asked Grandma about the family before she died' and perspectives like that," he told me.
"Bill and I did the heavy lifting by really asking those survivors and rescuers in Poland lots of questions in a systematic and dispassionate way," he added. "We had no family ties or hang ups with our interviewees. One of them even said to us that after four grueling days of interviews that we knew more about her story than anyone else on Earth because she had never told it so sequentially and in such detail as she had done with us."
Tammeus said that preserving memory is also important in Christianity.
"The responsibility to preserve memory carries a lot of weight in Judaism, of course, which is one reason the Exodus story is told over and over again in the Hebrew Scriptures," he said. "But preserving memory is also a high value in Christianity. Indeed, it's one reason for our sacrament of the Lord's Supper, Communion: to remember."
"Accurate and intentional remembering also is a way of standing against the fragility of reason represented by Holocaust deniers, whose profound anti-Judaism and antisemitism must be resisted at every turn," Tammeus said. "And I am happy and honored to be a small part of the effort to denigrate the willfully ignorant position of the deniers."
When the last Holocust survivor passes away sometime in the futrure, people like Rabbi Cukierkorn and Bill Tammeus -- and many others who have told and will continue to tell the story of survivors -- will become their voice.