Memories tell us that we are bound by a golden chain with those who preceded us and those who come after us. We gain strength from memories.
I remember in 1944 traveling for two days in a freight car with padlocked doors and windows covered with barbed wire. No one in the car knew our destination. Now and then we glimpsed a name of a city where the train was shunted to sidings waiting for a clear track. Now and then voices of prayers could be heard. About sunset on the third day, my mother opened a package containing bread and some smoked meat. As she handed the sausage to my younger sister and brother and me, I heard her sigh. She was handing her children food forbidden by the kosher laws that were a foundation of our Jewish identity. “Mother, why are you crying?” She turned her teary-eyed face to me. “Oy, my children, I cry for you. I am scared for you. I have lived, and I have had a good life, but you haven’t started to have a life yet. You haven’t had time to experience the joys of life. Oh dear and merciful God help them...”
That night the train stopped, and our journey ended. In the darkness of the early morning, I could hardly see anything. The air, however, was filled with a peculiar and unfamiliar odor, and through the barbed-wire windows I saw four huge flames. “Austeigen!” Soldiers opened the doors of the cars and commanded us to march in front of the devil incarnate, Dr. Mengele. I took a last look at the women’s line. “Good-bye, Mother, my sister, God be with you!” I shouted into the wind.
Jews are instructed to remember life in Egypt. Of course I, as an individual, was not a part of the people who suffered in Egypt or from the Syrians or from the Crusaders or from the Inquisition. And yet, as a member of my people, I remember these and other sufferings, reinforced in me by my experiences in the Holocaust. So I remember, and so I can also tell you to remember.
We should remember the Holocaust as we remember Egypt. We should remember because we, relying on our own efforts and not on God, must improve the world. We do this by constantly improving our moral understanding. This is why we remember.
Eugen Schoenfeld was born in 1925 in the Carpathian town of Munkacs in what is now Ukraine. He was raised and educated in the deeply rooted traditions of the Jewish faith amid a large and active Jewish community. However, Hitler’s “Final Solution” would irrevocably change his close-knit family.
Having survived the ghetto and internment in Germany’s infamous camps, the young man immigrated to the United States to begin to rebuild his life and complete his education with a Ph.D. in Sociology from Southern Illinois University. After a long and successful academic career culminating in the Chairmanship of the Department of Sociology at Georgia State University, where he developed the department’s Ph.D. program, Dr. Schoenfeld now resides in Atlanta with his wife Jean.
Kennesaw State University Press
Holocaust, survivor, memoir
Schoenfeld, Eugen, "My Reconstructed Life" (2005). KSU Press Legacy Project. 15.