Growing up a daughter of survivors of the Holocaust, it has always been a part of my life. Even though my parents never talked about their experiences in front of me when I was young, their memories became my memories in a strange way.
I knew I had to return to Europe one day and retrace their footsteps and try to imagine in my mind what happened to them, my family and the Jewish people.
I recently returned from a Holocaust tour of Europe, sponsored by the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust. I traveled to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic and visited five concentration and death camps: Sachsenhausen, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek and Terezin.
It is a trip most people wouldn't want to take, but I felt I had to go to recite the Kaddish, the prayer of mourning, for my grandparents, half-sister, family and for the 6 million lost souls of the Holocaust to show that we are still here and will always remember.
I never imagined I would visit my father's town of Chorzow, Poland. I heard about his town growing up and heard him talk about the family's feather factory and the apartment building they owned. It was surreal standing in front of the apartment building and the property that was their feather factory
(torn down by the Russians).
My father had been trying to get back his property since 1945. The Polish government said my family abandoned the apartment in 1943. In reality, the property was "abandoned" because they were deported.
To stand in the courtyard, to step in the hallway, was a feeling hard to describe. Even though my family never lived there, they were there every day because the feather factory was on the same property.
Driving into the city I tried to imagine what the area looked like when they lived there. I thought it would look different because of all the horrible things that happened there. But it looked like any other city.
I recently found out that my father's first wife and my half-sister left Chorzow to try to escape from the Nazis. They went to the city of Kielce, Poland, where my father had a cousin. Even though the Jewish people lived in a ghetto, in the beginning, the people still had some freedom. When I visited Kielce, I didn't know my father had hidden there with his family during the war.
The population of Kielce was more than a third Jewish. Now, there is not one Jew living there. The city gave me a very unsettling and uncomfortable feeling.
Everyone was sent to Auschwitz and Treblinka and many were murdered there, including orphan children who were murdered in pits in front of the orphanage, which is still standing today.
On July 4, 1946, after the liberation of Poland, a pogrom (violent attack) took place in Kielce. Forty-two men, women, children and an infant were murdered. These people were only staying in Kielce waiting to get papers to go to Israel and other countries.
When I returned from my trip, I discovered why I felt so uncomfortable in that city. My father's wife and daughter most likely were taken in a round-up and sent to Auschwitz in August 1942.
I also visited the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland, where my grandmother was from. Driving into the town, I tried to imagine my mother and my grandparents walking around in the streets.
I stood in the city square and took a picture. I have a picture of my mother in the same square.
This was a trip that was very difficult emotionally but so needed for me mentally. I had to face history and see what man can do when there no longer is a conscience of what is right and moral. When a government takes over and uses ruthlessness and hatred to rule and control people to their will. When man is too afraid to stand up for what is right.
Our tour guide in Krakow, Poland, explained to us why the Polish people couldn't do anything to help their neighbors and friends, how their lives also were threatened and they were victims, too. I reminded him that yes, there were other victims of the Nazis, but as Elie Wiesel said, the difference was that if you were Jewish, you were automatically a victim. And he agreed with me.
The world closed its eyes to what the Nazis were doing, which led to genocide and forced people to make choiceless choices.
I feel that this is a trip that all people should take because Yehuda Bauer, a Holocaust survivor, said, "If it is possible once, then it is possible again." The Holocaust, in this sense, is a warning for the future.
Your history is who you are. I am a daughter of the Holocaust.
Reggie Guigui is a resident of Mount Pleasant.