A man sitting in the audience suddenly jumped to his feet. I had just finished speaking at a Holocaust Memorial event where I shared the story of my mother, her family and their rescuers. I took in the older man’s tall athletic frame, weathered skin and full head of brown hair and sized him up as being around sixty years old.
His voice boomed like thunder across the same auditorium where I needed to be amplified by microphone minutes before. He told us that sixty nine years ago, he drove through the gates of Dachau Concentration Camp as a liberator with the US Army; a young solider of twenty two whose life would be changed by what he saw there. He wanted that no one forget his shock, and spoke out in support of Yom Ha'Shoa Memorial Day. He wanted us to make sure we never let it happen again.
When I remarked to him later, that without knowing it, my grandfather, enclosed behind the wire, may have waved to him in thanks, he said – no – he recalled few live prisoners. It was the convoy of railway cars that seemed to have no end, crammed with thousands of stick-thin corpses that left an indelible impression on him; one that lingers still today.
Clenching his hand, I thanked him for bringing freedom and hope to the forgotten, and for remembering. In that moment, I knew that in sharing the story of my mother’s rescuers – people who were open minded enough to act against intolerance and hatred – my grandfather was shaking the old soldier's hand, through me.