To Celebrate Or To Mourn: One Man Recounts Auschwitz’s Effects

This morning when I woke up, I had a thought-provoking email in my inbox. It was from my friend, Syd Mandelbaum.  Syd is the founder of Rock and Wrap it Up, an NGO dedicated to feeding those in need

In past interviews with Syd, he has said that he has chosen feeding the needy because of his own family’s near-starvation during the Holocaust.

For the past several years in my work with Tibet, I have been surrounded by those who have been directly impacted by modern-day genocide and oppressive fascist regimes; they have lost husbands, family members and friends, or been illegally detained in forced labor camps.  Syd’s email this morning was about an event 69 years ago today — the questions and ‘what ifs?’ are as fresh today as they were then.

Here is Syd’s email:

So it has come around again June 8. To celebrate or to mourn?

On June 8th 1942, the town of Szczckowa, Poland had a selection of who would live and who would die. Families were lined up and a military doctor pointed to the left or to the right. My mother Lena, at 15 was small. Her brother Morris was 17, her sister Regina was 19. Joseph was 12 and David 11. Solomon was was born in 1900 and was 41 and Paula was born in 1898 was 43.

Two years in the towns ghetto had reduced everyone’s size and health. Solomon, Regina and Morris were selected to go to a line of people who looked healthier in comparison to the other line which had more senior people and mothers with babies and young children on their arm. Joseph was as tall as Lena and when the selection came, he went with his mother. So did Lena.

Regina, the oldest saw this and had read the horrible truth. She ran to Lena and told her and Joseph to come with her, as David was very small. Joseph refused to leave his mother and Regina dragged Lena with her.

They had been an upper middle class family before the terrible war, living in Germany before they were uprooted to Poland. The defiant act of my Aunt Regina saved a future generation. So part of me must celebrate the miracle. The other part of me still shakes his fist at the heavens.

Later that day, the line of mothers and their babies and children, grandmothers and fathers and grandfathers were ushered into cattle cars and taken the 20 miles to the Auschwitz/Bierkineau death camp. They were sent to make-believe showers, handed wooden bars of soap and gassed to death. They were cremated, burned in ovens next door. They, for all practical purposes, disappeared.

This inhumane practice took place every day for years until the end of the war, an attempt to destroy a people, a genus, a culture. My mother still feels guilty 69 years later. She is still haunted by the events of this date, June 8th.

I was born 8 years after this selection. I always ask why there are not more think tanks which fight poverty, disease, social ills? How many more Rock and Wrap it Up!s could have been formulated by the children of those who were murdered? There is no answer.

I just need to wake up on the anniversary of this date every year and decide to celebrate or mourn. As I get older, I find myself forcing to feel celebratory on the miracle on my Aunt’s quick thinking.  June 8th is the real birth of everything related to my existence and my family.

It is also the death of so much what could have been.


Related Stories:

Parent Recommends Holocaust-Denying Book To His PTA

“Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews During World War II” Now On Exhibit in NYC

Why the Armenian Genocide Needs to be Recognized


Photo credit: Syd Mandelbaum (with parents in 1951)


Christine S.

I don't see anything wrong with celebrating your life while also remembering those who perished- like the funeral processions in New Orleans that start out sad and end up on a triumphant note. Make sure you are living as best a life as you can to honor the ones who didn't make it.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal7 years ago

It is worth recalling our inhumanity towards one another before we repeat it.

Barbara Chally
Barbara Chally7 years ago

The Germans were largely Christian, well educated and a quite sophisticated people, not dissimilar from citizens of the U.S. at that time. I was only a child under ten at this time, but three of four of my grandparents were born in Germany, and the fourth only after her parents emmigrated here from there. I have a firm conviction those people were not that different from those I knew then and know now. Though not living under a system of government exactly like ours, the people did feel they had some control in selecting their leadership. They had been disappointed following the results of WW1 and quite desireous of improved status in the world, so became highly patriotic. Things too extreme can be troublesome and lead to mistakes in judgment.

Barbara Chally
Barbara Chally7 years ago

I agree with your comments to Aileen, Maureen. The numbers involved in the Holocaust do account for much of the interest the memory of it invokes. Of course others can point out the numbers in other locations where the actual count may not have been possible may never be known, either.

However, I believe there may be another, more pervasive reason for the example of the Holocaust arising again and again, especially in this country. In fact for some time there have been commercial interests in promoting the worst elements of this particular history, as well as political ones.

The facts hardest to admit are how easily and nearly completely a whole country fell under the spell of this supposed improvement in the culture there. Some was because most were actually unaware of the extent of the atrocities being committed. But the total acceptance of their leadership without realizing the lengths it might reach in realizing goals was not fully recognized by the majority until it was too late. I can never believe the German citizens as a whole desired the elimination of their fellow citizens in such a manner. They were misled in adopting leadership with goals that seemed patriotic and good for all, while really they were self-serving motives not revealed in full to voters supporting them.

That is why in the United States government we must be vigilant in monitoring our choices at every step in changes, small and large, never without considering possible end results.

Maureen L.
Maureen Leibich7 years ago

Aileen P--The difference between the holocaust and these other wars is volume. For years, the Nazis rounded up Jews and killed them for no other reason than they were Jews. It was not only the Jews, either. They rounded up people who were not considered to be Aryan--blond, fair-skinned people. In all, the Germans annialated 6,000,000 Jews and an equal number of people who were not Jewish. They set out to conquer the world, and they might have succeeded if the Japanese had not jumped the gun by attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The United States immediately declared war on Japan, which was an ally of Germany. Then Germany declared war on the United States.

There is an old saying it would be wise for people to remember. The man who forgets to remember is doomed to repeat. We must never forget the holocaust or what was done to the millions of poor people sent to the death camps.

Aileen Pienaar
Aileen Pienaar7 years ago

Richard A "I guess I'm missing something here so please educate me why this gas is such a heartbreaking issue. Is it the number of people killed? The manner? And why is this war and death so historical and the stories replayed time and time again? I'm kind of getting desensitized here like old stories of racism. So, please tell me what makes this killing more special than so many other killings in history."
The holocaust is no more or no less important than any war, genocide, crime against humanity, killings or murder. The only difference is that the Jews decided that it will never be forgotten by mankind and that we would hopefully learn from it. But considering all the other wars and genocide that has happened since then, we, as so-called humans, have obviously not learnt anything from the horrors of the Holocaust. See Rwandan & Bosnian Genocide, War in Darfur, Vietnam War, Cambodian Wars, etc, etc. I don't think there is one nation that is innocent of crimes against humanity in one form or another. Have we learnt from history. No. Do we sit back and allow it to happen. Yes, the majority of us do. What can we do about it? I honestly don't know. Inundate your government with requests to intercede??? What else? It is heartbreaking that it happens and as individuals, it is heartbreaking that we cannot do anything about it, unless you are part of an organisation that aids countries in need. Although sometimes even they aren't able to assist. My prayers to all those involve

Terry King
Terry King7 years ago

@ Jane L. Trying to use the Holocaust to promote your vegan agenda is indefensable!

Yvonne S.
Yvonne S7 years ago

I could never visit a Holocaust Museum because it would upset me too much, but I agree with Elgrit B that it should never, ever be forgotten and that people should see visual reminders of how terrible it was.

Eugene Kravis
Eugene Kravis7 years ago

In discussions about the Holocaust, we must not forget the RESCUERS. The thousands of known and unsung heroes, who risked themselves and their families torture and death to save lives and cheat the nazis. It is well documented. Will they rise again, if we plunge into that darkness???

Henk M.
Henk M.7 years ago

The holocaust has never gone away..

Like most bad smells it meanders here there and everywhere.. from Auschwitz to the Gulag to Kampuchea/Nam/China/North Korea encompassing virtually every muslim nation under the sun to darkest Africa/South and Middle America as a matter of fact the whole world is about to succumb..

You might as well keep celebrating you never know when your turn will come..