Rabbi Joseph Polak, author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring, was interviewed on Radio Boston with Meghna Chakrabarti.
Among many questions, Rabbi Polak was asked about his memories of the Holocaust.
“The early memories are impressionistic. The poplar trees stir something in my body…even now, that I know comes from there. So, do I have visual memory of it? No. But the first time I saw poplar trees, certainly in Europe, I knew that this was associated with the Holocaust. It took me years to figure out what it was…They were part of the topography of Westerbork. And Westerbork is at the youngest point of my childhood in the Holocaust.”
He was also asked what he thinks child survivors of the Holocaust should have been told.
“What I think they should have said was, ‘Yes, you feel something. Yes, your body remembers something.’ That would have been very helpful…And this did not come just from one person in my life. It was universal. Whenever you met an adult survivor and you started talking about the Holocaust, they said, ‘Oh, you don’t remember anything. Thank God you were a child. Thank God you were a child.’ And I have these conversations with Eli Wiesel, thank God I was a child? Eli Wiesel was 14 when he was taken to the camps. I said, ‘You had 14 fabulous years with your family. You had a wonderful family, you were at your grandparents’ house, you’re at your parents’ house. It was a happy, warm family.’ I had three months with my family, and then I was taken to Westerbork and to Bergen-Belsen. I had nothing. And my group of survivors really, really suffered, sometimes to the point of madness in adult life, because of this.”
The final question was geared toward his views on forgiving the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
“I think that it is not up to the survivors to forgive the Germans. I don’t think it’s up to the Jewish people to forgive the perpetrators. I think it’s something they have to take on themselves, and something they have to deal with themselves. We cannot speak for the dead, we cannot speak for the murdered. Who can?”
You can listen to this fascinating interview, and read more about it, here.