Six-year old Abraham Freiburg had fled with his mother and long entertained the notion that Tati — the Yiddish word for Daddy — was only missing and that they would soon find him. But “never again” came too late, because Abraham’s father was no longer his lively Tati who sang him to sleep in that endearing tone-deaf way. His father was no longer his trusted confidant. His father was no longer the one who bore Abraham on his soldiers or walked to synagogue with him. Abraham learned soon enough that his father, Eliezer Freiburg, was dead, murdered at the hands of a Nazi whose face he had never seen.
Abraham spent the next eight years running between Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Germany. He was sent away to live as a farmer’s son on the countryside. He pretended to be an altar boy in a church to avoid being identified as a Jude with a yellow star. He hid for months in someone’s attic, speaking only through whispers. He was thrown into jail when he and his mother crossed the border to Hungary illegally.
The war ended, and little Abraham and his mother, Heline, had narrowly escaped death dozens of times. The rest of the family was not so lucky. Some, who lived in the ghetto, were shot when walking home. Some were rounded in up in faraway places like Babi Yar and buried with screams still fresh in their throats. Some had numbers on their arms. Some came to Israel. Some never left Poland.
Abraham came to America and changed his name to Adi. His mother remarried, and his last name, Freiburg, changed to Eisenberg. He excelled in school, became fluent in English, and went to university. He received a Ph.D in Chemistry from Princeton, and went on to become one of the top 100 most influential chemists in the world. His son’s Hebrew name is Eliezer. This Eliezer also sang in a lovely tone-deaf way to his daughter, me, whom he bore on his shoulders and took to synagogue.
Adi had many grandchildren, only one of whom bears the Eisenberg name. He is now eighty-one and is developing dementia. When his son and granddaughter took him to the Holocaust Museum over the summer, memories flooded back. He recalled horrific tales of death and darkness that survivors can know. As soon as he came home, however, the memories disappeared. Abraham asked his son innocently, “What did we do today?”
I tell you only the story of Adi Eisenberg. I could recount stories about my maternal grandparents whose families were persecuted for being Jewish in the Soviet Union, my grandmother who was separated from her parents and put into an orphanage for a while, my grandfather who had the war break out on his fourth birthday, both of whom survived the Siege of Leningrad. I could tell you about my mother who fled Russia to seek refuge in America or about my cousin who still has his yellow star.
How will we perpetuate their memory? Will we only “like” empty slogans on Facebook? Or will we stand for Jewish survival and continuity? Jew hatred did not die with the Holocaust, but neither did the Jews. We are all the children and grandchildren of survivors, whose stories we now hold and legacies we continue.