DR. FAYE ZAKHEIM
I recently joined RAJE on a trip that was deeply meaningful for me personally. We took the students to Vienna on the way to Israel.
I am a child of Holocaust survivors. My father was in Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen Belsen, had numbers branded on his arm and only he and my uncle survived from a very large family.
My mother miraculously survived Mauthausen concentration camp with my grandmother, seven siblings and my miracle cousin, Esther, who was born during the Nazi regime, but I never met my grandfather. He survived until the end of the war but succumbed to typhus two weeks after liberation in a hospital in Vienna. He was buried in the Mauthausen concentration camp
cemetery, where we took our students. Near the mass grave of many thou- sands of prisoners, my grandfather’s kever is the only one marked with a name: Tibor Stamler, Z”L. His descendants live in America and Israel and his grave is rarely visited. For me, it was a dream, to visit it with forty Jewish souls who placed rocks there.
Daniel, our Austrian guide shared with us his life story. After graduating high school, he did community service at Mauthausen. He had no former knowledge about what had happened in the Holocaust and was stunned to learn about the crimes committed by the Nazis. He lives in the vicinity of the wealthy community that surrounds the concentration camp and he told us that the idea that his family watched as Jews were being taken up to be killed disturbed him greatly and then he discovered with horror that his own grandfather had been a Nazi who fought in Hitler’s army!
Daniel began to realize that the crimes of the past were being perpetuated still today by the silence that surrounds the subject and the failure of Austrians to take responsibility for their participation in the atrocities. He felt a great sense of responsibility to fill in this void and made it his mission to continue working at Mauthausen and tell the true story of what happened.
When I showed the RAJErs my grandfather’s grave, I told them that we have been considering reburying him in Israel. When Daniel heard this there were tears in his eyes. He explained that the presence of my grandfather’s kever with his name on it, had transformed his life. The Nazis, he explained, first dehumanized their victims by stripping them of their identities, taking away their names and giving them numbers. Seeing this one name made him realize that all the victims there were once individual human beings with names and families.
The intensity of this moment was indescribable and many of us were reduced to tears. One RAJE student said that she had never been so deeply moved by the tragedy of the Holocaust and at the same time, she never felt more proud to be a Jew.
The following Shabbos, already in Israel, we asked students to describe their most memorable moment of the trip so far. Gavriel a RAJEr from Starrett City got up and said that for him that moment was in Mauthausen when he had witnessed a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and the grandson of a Nazi come together by Divine Providence at the site of a grave that had such deep meaning for both of them. He said that just as my grandfather’s descendants all married Jewish, he was inspired to live a Jewish life and establish a Jewish family.