Matthew Silberman is a senior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. He will attend Princeton in the fall.
"My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish." These were among the final words of Daniel Pearl, an American journalist, before he was murdered by the terrorists who kidnapped him, in Pakistan, in 2002. He was killed, in part, for a reason we know all too well: he was a Jew. And yet, with his last breaths, he affirmed the deep Jewish pride that his parents instilled in him.
Just like Daniel Pearl, I am proud to be the Jewish son of two Jewish parents. And I am proud to be the grandson of four grandparents, all of whom were Holocaust survivors.
My grandparents all came from Poland, but each had a unique story. These were the stories I was told as a child, and that made me who I am today. Their survival, through hard work, through faith, and often through sheer luck, taught me to make the most of every day. Their survival taught me to do my best, no matter the circumstances. Their survival taught me to be good to others, just as a young Polish-Catholic woman named Marisia was good to my grandmother, Mama Manya, and hid her underground for two years. Finally, just as my grandparents survived, they taught me to make sure their stories survive.
Today, as a representative of the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, I am happy to say that there is hope for Holocaust remembrance. At countless middle schools, high schools, and college campuses across the country, grandchildren of survivors create and participate in Yom Hashoah programs. At these programs, the names of those lost during the Holocaust are read, poems and essays are shared, and candles are lit. In towns where survivors still live, they are invited to share their stories.
But, as good as these programs are, many grandchildren of survivors have become disengaged from Holocaust remembrance. Too often I find my generation under-represented at events like this one. For example, for two out of the last three years, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference for Holocaust survivors and their families, where people of all ages discussed their memories of the past and hopes for the future. But, both years at the conference, I was only one of around ten grandchildren who attended from around the world.
Today, I am here to give you hope, but also to ask for help. Grandparents, parents, please continue to tell us what happened, so that it can never happen again. Tell us again how you survived, so that we may be inspired by your boundless strength. Tell us how you remember, and bring us to important events like this one so that this becomes a part of our schedules and our lives. And, most importantly, tell us again to tell others your story, so that we will always remember you, and so that our friends, our teachers, our children and their children will also know and remember.
My grandmother, Mama Manya, always told me that her story of survival is more than an inspirational bedtime story - it is a history. Collectively, the hundreds of stories in this room alone make up our history - the history of the Jewish people, through struggle and survival. This is a history that must never be forgotten - and with your memories and your teachings, I, on behalf of the third generation of Holocaust survivors, will rightly declare that our grandparents remembered, our parents remember, and we will never forget.