As Jewish captives remain hostage, International Holocaust Remembrance Day takes on new importance

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated each year on January 27 in conjunction with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. 

In 1945, as Soviet troops began closing in, Nazi Germany’s SS units began the final evacuation of prisoners from Auschwitz and its subcamps, marching them on foot toward the interior of the German Reich. These forced evacuations came to be known as “death marches.”

Those SS units forced nearly 60,000 prisoners to march day in and day out, through the freezing winter terrain of Central Europe. Because my grandfather, Solomon, still had the strength to walk, he wasn’t liberated with the prisoners who were left behind in Auschwitz, and thus suffered another four months until he was liberated by American troops near Dachau.

Meanwhile, my grandmother, Frieda, was being held as a slave laborer in a series of concentration and labor camps to which she was forcibly moved, one by one, after being deported from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.

It’s been 79 years. As the granddaughter of Solomon and Frieda Radasky, I am joined by fellow descendants of survivors who are now charged with preserving the memories and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust that we heard firsthand.

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Back in 1945, neither my grandfather nor my grandmother could possibly have imagined that their granddaughter would be living in the American southwest, where the Arizona Legislature would use its opening session in January 2024 to formally declare allegiance with the state of Israel and condemn the terrorists who keep trying to destroy the Jewish people.

I am grateful to Arizona State House Speaker Ben Toma for publicly offering support for the United States’ greatest ally in the Middle East. Holocaust survivors were on hand at the solemn ceremony, and a Violin of Hope was played to help commemorate the occasion.  It was beautiful to witness the bipartisan support for Israel and for the Jewish people.

I am also thankful for the Arizona Legislature’s passage of House Bill 2241 in 2021, which ensured that the Holocaust is taught in Arizona’s public schools. The Phoenix Holocaust Association (PHA), where I work, is a unique regional resource for Holocaust education and remembrance. PHA promotes human dignity by inspiring people to speak out and take action against hate, bigotry, intolerance, and discrimination. Our educator workshops, speakers bureau, and programming for Holocaust survivors and their descendants have become more important than ever since Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7, 2023.

These are sad times. While Jewish children are held hostage in Gaza, does the world remember the 1.5 million children who were kidnapped and subsequently murdered during the Holocaust? Each child had a name and hopes and possibilities. My mother’s half-brother, Baruch, was two years old when his life was taken from him. Ever since I was an adolescent and learned of his fate, I’ve imagined the life he could have lived — the life he should have lived, if the international community had intervened earlier in the war to save European Jewry.

Hamas’ hostages include Kfir Bibas, who just had his first birthday in captivity, and Ariel Bibas, who is four. We know your names. You are not forgotten. Every day we plead, pray, and work for your rescue.

My grandfather told me many times about his first night in Auschwitz, when a number was tattooed on his arm, a permanent marker that would remain as a physical piece of evidence for the remainder of his life: 128232. 

He counted the numbers individually, 1+2+8+2+3+2, which added up to 18. In Hebrew, letters have a numeric equivalent. The word for life, “chai,” equates to the number 18. For him, that number was a sign that he must not lose hope. That he would survive. 

Today, my greatest hope, in memory of my brave, beautiful, kind, and heroic grandparents, is that the people of Israel live. We pray for Ariel and Kfir. Together, we shall survive.

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