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Lives Interrupted
The Holocaust Memoirs of George and Miriam Greenman

by Miriam Yonish Greenman ©2012, Paperback, ISBN: 9-78-1935232-5-75, 144 pp
 

Growing up third generation, I always understood that the Holocaust was a part of who we were. I lived a block away from my grandparents; I was their first grandchild. My grandparents’ friends were Holocaust survivors. In fact, until I was ten years old, I thought all grandparents were Holocaust survivors and spoke with accents

 

I feel that I have always known about the Holocaust

 

Most of what I knew I learned from my grandfather, George Greenman. He had lost his mother, brother, and sister, during the Holocaust, and he would tell me about them. I knew also that my great-grandmother Ida was George’s stepmother, a second marriage for George’s father. I will always remember sitting at their kitchen table complaining that I had had a bad day at school or that I was hungry. The response would be the same: “You don’t know from a bad day. In the ghettos, we. . . ” “You don’t know from hunger. We had only a crust of bread.” As a teenager, I worked for my grandfather at his hotel

 

George would tell me stories of his childhood and more about his family who had been murdered in the Holocaust. Gradually these images of suffering and despair helped me to realize just how horrible the Holocaust had been

 

My grandmother, Miriam Greenman, rarely talked about the Holocaust. She wanted to protect us, so she talked mostly about pleasant things. It was only ten years ago when I was planning to speak to Gail Rosenthal’s Holocaust and Genocide class at Stockton College, that Miriam began to talk with me about her experiences. When I told her about the class, I mentioned to her, “I know much more about Grandpop’s experiences, but I don’t know as much about yours.” She started to open up and talk to me, explaining some of what had happened to her and her family. Later when the film Defiance came out, it was more common for her to talk about the Holocaust. Her story came alive through the film because she had been part of the group protected by the Bielski partisans. I will forever be grateful that I was able to experience watching that movie sitting next to her. As the scenes unfolded, she would reaffirm events that had happened. What I learned gave me a new found respect for what she had gone through and an understanding of parents’ loving children so much that they would sacrifice everything for them. Her mother had gone without food to be sure that Miriam survived

 

Through this and time, I also had a better appreciation of the reasons that appearances are so important to Miriam

 

During their time in the ghetto, for example, Miriam’s mother made sure that Miriam was clean and dressed well, with nicely braided hair. This was instrumental in saving hers and my great-grandmother Nina’s life when Jews in the Lida ghetto were being selected for deportation. As a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, my identity has always been bound up with the Holocaust. For many years, I was obsessed with the Holocaust, taking courses in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where I had a minor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Even now, I work with Holocaust survivors at Jewish Family Service. It has always been a big part of how I define myself

 

I have tried to protect my children, the fourth generation, in some ways. The Holocaust is not as immediate to them as it was to me. I balance not wanting this to be a huge part of their identities, while making sure they know it is an important part of their family history. Still, as they learn about the Holocaust, I want them not only to care because they are fourth generation, but also because they are human beings and need to care about what happens to others. I don’t want the Holocaust to be the guiding force in their lives as much as an important learning opportunity that they can build on

 

From my grandparents, I have been given many gifts, but the most important of these are also part of who I am

 

From George, I was given humor. He was a funny, witty man, and I, too, love to make people laugh (sometimes successfully, sometimes not). From him, I also received the gift of talking to people. George would meet a person for ten seconds and would make a friend for life. He was very involved in the community; he loved to be around people and loved to talk. I as well gather strength from being with people. I do regret that George did not meet his great-grandchildren. He died in 1995; my first child, Georgia, was born in 1998. She is his namesake in more ways than one. Sometimes I can hear the conversation the two of them would have. I know he would have loved all his greatgrandchildren, as he was a kind and loving grandfather

 

I wish I had Miriam’s sense of style, but anyone who knows me knows that I don’t. However, from her, I received an even more valuable gift—the importance of family. From the time when I was growing up to the present, Miriam has emphasized the importance of being with family. We always went to her home for family dinners on holidays such as Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Chanukah. She still loves being with family; and now that I have my own family, Miriam and I always split the holidays: one night at her house and the second night at mine. Thank goodness she always contributes her homemade gefilte fish, even when she comes to my house

 

I am in awe of the strength of my grandparents, George and Miriam, as I am the strength of all the Holocaust survivors

 

They had the strength, or luck, not only to survive but also to find a way to move on with their lives. In today’s society, many people blame their childhoods for the way they behave as adults. The survivors transcended the horrors and trauma of their childhoods and young adulthood. Their entire past lives and sometimes their whole families were wiped out. They came to the United States with nothing, except perhaps a few photographs, and became productive citizens. I sometimes question, Could we pick up and go to a new country with a new language and with very little support from any family members or community? How could they continue to put one foot in front of the other when they had to start over after watching their family and friends die in the most horrific way? They did this and so much more. The Holocaust survivors’ strength and resilience are role models for all of us

 

—Lirone Turner, 2012

Lives Interrupted

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