It is Yom Ha Shoah (Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah), or the Jewish Holocaust Day of Remembrance as it is commonly known. It is distinct from the more public day of remembrance for the Holocaust (which occurs in January) in that it is intended for the Jewish people to reflect on the loss and persecution that occurred at the hands of the Nazi regime in Europe in the 1930s and 40s.
I was born into a family that experienced that period in a multitude of ways. The stories of survival are miraculous and heart-wrenching, but they are long and mostly for another day.
In short, my mother is from a Jewish German line, whilst my father is of Cornish and Welsh stock. His family was transported in 1804 for smuggling and then soon after freed in the early days of the Sydney colony in which they ultimately thrived. In fact, a relative of ours was the Fisher in the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney. He didn’t have any kids and the library is a testament to how much he disliked his niece's marital choices.
In this way, I have two quite different genetic legacies. Both engender stories of forced displacements and separation from homelands and families, but they are essentially different.
In the case of my mother’s line, there are two stories at play. My grandfather’s father, Otto, was a travelling salesman who got wind of the terror looming on the political horizon in time to spirit his family to safety in Australia quite early on. I have no idea what happened to his parents or most of their relatives except one — an Aunty, who went to Argentina on her own and remained there.
My grandmother’s family were more entrenched in German life and were extremely lucky to have made it out to Australia, via India. What my grandmother didn’t talk much about was who was left behind. She would nod sagely and smile wistfully and move the conversation on politely. It’s not that she was avoiding the subject, I think she literally had no idea what happened to the majority of the people they left behind.
My story is a happy one for the most part. I have been shielded in many ways form the immense trauma and tragedy that so many endured thanks to a combination of privilege (they had the means), good decisions (they found a way out) and an element I can only call ‘mystery’ or ‘synchronicity’, or perhaps just blind luck as they went through several potentially life-threatening sliding door moments and were…