I returned back to 3G a couple weeks ago now after a whirlwind trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador. It has taken me a few weeks to write, as it’s been hard for me to wrap my mind around the circumstances our country seems to find itself in– ones that seem all to familiar.

My mother’s mother and father escaped from Germany and Italy, respectively, during World War II and fled to Ecuador. My grandmother was 12 and my grandfather 19. The two of them made Ecuador their home: becoming part of the Jewish community of refugees in Guayaquil, making lifelong friends and having their first 2 children. They eventually left for the United States in 1955, had my mother, and the rest is history…

My father’s parents had a story all their own – making me somewhat of a mutt but also a product of fate, as I like to think about it. My paternal grandmother was from Poland, but at the age of 18 was taken on the third transport to Auschwitz. She survived the Death March, almost the entirety of Auschwitz and came into contact with Mengele twice – among other terrifying experiences – which are chronicled in a memoir entitled Rena’s Promise. All the while, my grandfather, who hailed from the Netherlands, spent time in a work camp but had the nerve to “walk out” at an opportune moment. He escaped on a train, narrowly avoiding capture, by going directly up to an SS officer to ask “what [his] medals were for”, full well knowing his Aryan-like features of blonde hair and bright blue eyes would focus the officer’s attention away from his required papers.

My grandparents were masters at making the best out of nothing. All four were in the Holocaust, and yet, my paternal grandmother famously would say “to hate is to let Hitler win”. They thought of their children and their grandchildren as the best revenge. So there never really was much talk of suffering or trauma, but mostly focus on creating the purest happiness for their family in the present day. And yet, not a moment in my life has passed where those memories haven’t imprinted and flooded into every aspect of my life. I’m not sure who I would be without them, if it weren’t for their torment, and their fight for us to see a much better world than they had had. I carry those thoughts, and those wishes, with me every single day. Not a person alive, whether it be an acquaintance or a best friend of mine, does not know how amazingly proud I am of my family and everything my grandparents did for me. I can only hope that my grandparents, three of whom are no longer with us, are as proud of my path as I am of them every day.

Going back to one of the countries that held so many memories for my grandparents, good and bad, was somewhat of a surreal experience. My brother is an anthropologist who has studied Germany, so my family has traveled there several times, but the reality of the horrific events that unfolded there never seem real when you visit. I had the same feelings in Ecuador. In only about 75 years time, it’s as though the memory of the Holocaust and the sanctuary so many Jews found here has all been wiped clean from its existence. Of course in Berlin, the amount of apologies, monuments, plaques – whatever you can think of – is endless and they are sprawled throughout the city. And yet, it is still like any other city you’d step into. In Guayaquil, the Jewish community only has about 70 people left. You’d never know that it served as a safe haven not that many years ago. Perhaps because, as I’ve said, my grandparents and others like them wanted to live in the beauty of the present, with their children and children’s children. But those times have changed: in 2018, this lack of remembrance not only has a harrowing quality in and of itself, but allows for that terrifying bystander effect to take hold yet again.

Every step I take is in honor of my grandparents, but now, walking into many cities that were the sites of these horrors, that time has uncomfortably, and eerily, come and gone. I’ve decided to dedicate my life to human rights (my father calls me Mother Theresa) beginning with choosing it as my major, to this job at 3G and now to being a very loud “social justice warrior” (though sarcastic, a term I rather enjoy) in a time that’s disturbing for me to witness. But for the masses, those memories have started to fade, as I’ve witnessed these all too familiar patterns rising in, not only the U.S., but all over the world. With the absence of these reminders, most forget that seemingly minuscule and harmless steps in the early 20th century are what got us to World War ll in the first place. For me, revisiting these places has only further sparked those reminders. With the memory of my grandparents at the forefront of my mind, more and more everyday, it’s my wish and my goal to make the world truly fulfill the words ‘Never Again’.

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