Op-Ed: My Yad Vashem, the Hand and the Name
Prof. Itzhak D. Goldberg, MD FACRThe writer is professor of clinical radiation oncology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the CEO of Angion Biomedica Corporation.
I had a sister. I never knew her name.
I had a sister. She was never named.
Was she fair skinned and blonde like my grandson or an olive toned brunette resembling my granddaughter? Were her eyes blue like mine or brown soft eyes reminiscent of my father’s?
I serendipitously discovered her existence 70 years after she was born. Seventy years after she died.
Her grave will never be identified.
I had a nameless sister who was accidentally smothered by one of her parents within days of her birth.
In the Nazi search for the family huddling in their hidden alcove, an unknown hand muffled the baby's cry to spare the entire family certain death.
I had a baby sister who could not be named in the synagogue because the synagogue in Krasnik, Poland had been turned into a stable.
I had an anonymous sister whose parents buried her with their bare hands in the darkness of night in an unmarked grave in the ancient Jewish cemetery of Krasnik.
Could have it been my father’s gentle hand?
The mighty hand that miraculously recovered after a brutal injury? The weathered hand that gingerly carved shtetel profiles out of aged and veined Holyland olive wood? Was that the hand that proudly grasped my buoyant hand, accompanying me down the aisle at my wedding ceremony?
Or was it perhaps the loving hand of the baby’s mother Chaya who days after burying her unnamed newborn tightly clutched her seven year old daughter Chava’s trembling hand, as they were marched together into the Majdanek gas chamber?
Should we name my baby sister during the mincha service on the 9th of Av?
At a time when mourning transitions into hope. When the Tefillin are returned to our forehead. When according to tradition the Mashiach will be born.
But where should we name her?
In the decimated Jewish cemetery of Krasnik where she was laid to rest in a shallow grave? At the villa in Wannsee where Hitler planned the elimination of the Jewish nation from the annals of mankind? At the death camp where her mother and sister were incinerated? At my father's grave in Haifa? At the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem? At the Kotel, symbol of the endurance of the Jewish people - or at Masada where parents killed their children to die as free people?
I had an anonymous mysterious sister. Baby Goldberg #2.
What name should we give her? What name did her parents plan for her? Her mother, gassed. My father never told me.
What do they call her in heaven?
But how can we name a dead human being?
Should we let the virtual social networks name her?
A name to be bestowed by the virtual community for a virtual life.
Let it go viral.
Let the world forever remember the evil that can be bred and erupt in man and the pain that we, the second generation Holocaust survivors, continue to bear.
And may her memory endure for as long as there is a crying baby on this earth.