I am the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. This defines me.
Growing up in Toronto, I heard firsthand stories from my Bubie and Zaida of the horrors and atrocities they experienced during the Holocaust. The stories of the many family members who were murdered at the hand of the Nazis and the inhumane conditions they endured in the multiple work camps and concentration camps where they were imprisoned. My Zaida’s four children and first wife were murdered, along with much of his extended family. Of my Bubie’s six siblings, she and her two younger sisters were the only survivors; her parents and older siblings and their children were all murdered.
After being liberated from the camps, my grandparents met one another—my Zaida was close to 20 years older than my Bubie. They married in Prague, then made their way to Erding, Germany, to be with the surviving family members. There they started to rebuild their life and my mom and aunt were born. They moved to Israel for five years, back to Germany, and eventually immigrated to Canada to rejoin their siblings.
They had nothing when they arrived. They didn’t speak English. In fact, English was my mom and aunt’s fourth language after German, Hebrew and Yiddish. My mom and aunt were teased and even called Nazis by other kids when they started school in Toronto because they spoke German to one another. They lived in small quarters, all four of them cramped into two rooms of living space on a floor of a house. Money was scarce. My grandparents worked, my Zaida as a shoemaker and my Bubie as a dressmaker. My Bubie worked in a factory sewing while taking in work on the side, while my Zaida opened his own shoe-repair store. Slowly, through hard work and determination, they bought their own home where they lived for many years.
What has defined me the most regarding these family stories is observing and experiencing how they chose to lead their lives after the Holocaust.
One would imagine that after so much being stolen from my mother’s family, they would be bitter, feeling like the world was against them.
It was the opposite. Kindness to others was the central tenet in their family. Theirs was a house filled with love and gatherings with family and friends. I was fortunate to have my Bubie in my life well into my 40s. She was always kind to my friends, but also to the people she encountered while we were out whom she didn’t know personally. She always had a friendly smile and something kind to say. And so I, in turn, was raised in a family that demonstrated the values of kindness and optimism every day.
Last year, my son experienced an anti-Semitic incident. His hockey team was having a terrible season, losing every game. The coach quit six weeks into the season and then the goalie quit. The team was flailing. When the goalie quit, a couple of the boys on the team sent messages of “You are a dirty Jew” and swastikas in their group chat. The goalie was the only other Jewish kid on the team. This affected my son deeply and he wanted to quit the team, despite hockey being a huge part of his life. He called my mom to tell her what happened and my mom’s response to him immediately was “Invite their family over for Shabbat dinner.” She explained to him that this boy simply did a stupid thing because he didn’t know better and it was my son’s job to show forgiveness and kindness.
I am doing my best to raise my kids the same way, to show kindness and to give of themselves whenever they can. It’s the small everyday things. I am so proud when I see my son offer his seat on the subway to an elderly man, or when my daughter passes a homeless person on the street and gives them some money or food.
Despite what we have experienced in our lives, there is always the choice to make your path one of kindness.
Elisa Udaskin is the founder and CEO of Caring Organizer, LLC. This free website, www.caringorganizer.com, has online tools to organize shiva meals and meals for someone who is ill along with helpful tips for showing support. Elisa can be reached at [email protected]