One of the horrors of genocide is when whole families are killed; the line is extinguished, and over time the whole family will be forgotten. When a family is killed, their friends and families mourn them, but when those friends and families are also killed the memories are extinguished from the collective history.
Genocide strikes families and communities. When a whole community is killed, there is nobody left to remember them. Nobody left to say their names, record their lives, even acknowledge their deaths. It is as if they had never existed; whole lives just erased. That is why Genocide is the crime of crimes; why we abhor it above other crimes.
People who spent years walking around, talking, writing memories, taking photos, loving, sharing, and laughing just vanish. The Holocaust killed entire communities, also wiping out the memory of generations of people before them. Genocide at its most thorough burns buildings, destroys records, archives, photos so even after all the people are gone, there is no record of those people.
When I grew up, I knew some of my grandmother’s family had died in the Holocaust. Thanks to the Nazis’ records of their own crimes, and to the very, very few remaining artefacts of the very, very few survivors of this genocide, suddenly the Internet is giving these shadows from my past names and faces. No longer is it just an amorphous cluster of memories — ‘some people died’ — it is now individuals. My great grandfather Tobias’s brothers, Wolf, Szymon, and Szyja, his sister Dwojra and her husband Jakob were all killed. Szyja’s wife, Helena, and their children Dawid, Roza, Anna, and young Teodor, all of them were killed in concentration camps. These are now real people with names and faces.
In Ancient Egyptian culture, people carved their names on their tombs with a request that passers-by speak their name. This was believed to feed their soul in the afterlife. Reciting the names of the dead is common in many cultures; it keeps their memories alive with future generations. It is therefore important to me to record the names of Wolf, Szymon, Szyja, and Dwojra, and of their families here for you to read them, for us to rehabilitate their otherwise lost memories. I am named after my great-grandfather, and he spent his life mourning his murdered siblings, so I now…