Taking the risk: a Holocaust remembrance story

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brittany Paerschke-O'Brien
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The Department of Defense recognizes nine special observances to commemorate significant people or moments in history, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Women's Equality Day and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. These commemorations impact many people on personal levels, and are a way to honor those who came before us.

One of these upcoming observances is the "Days of Remembrance," established by Congress to commemorate the Holocaust. This observance in particular holds a special significance for me, as it allows me to reflect on memories of my grandmother, or "Oma."

Although I do not have family members who were a part of those directly targeted during the Holocaust, my Oma was born in Germany and grew up during this hostile era, witnessing its tragedies.

My Oma rarely talked about her past and what she had seen, but I knew that it had affected her deeply. From a very young age, I was always curious about her experiences, but she remained closed-off, wishing to keep her memories private. With my constant inquires to her yielding no result, I searched for answers elsewhere. Being so young, I did not fully comprehend the scope of what she went through.

I began watching movies and reading books about the Holocaust and became engrossed with the history behind it. This newfound captivation also led me to take three years of German language classes, in hopes to one day travel to Europe and see Auschwitz.

Growing up and learning about World War II and the Holocaust in school, my peers knew of my German descent and sometimes had the misconception that my family members were part of the Nazi regime. What I kept to myself, however, was that my Oma's family was actually part of the initiative to conceal and protect the Jewish community during that era.

When my mother first told me this, I was amazed to think my Oma's family would risk their lives to save people they may have hardly known. Instead of turning these people over to the Nazis as they were ordered, my family chose to stand up for what they believed in; a risk what they were willing to die for.

Unfortunately my Oma passed away as I was reaching my teenage years, taking away any chance of having a mature conversation as to why she refrained from discussing her past. Through the years, my mother would share what little she knew, and gradually I began to appreciate why my Oma withheld her stories.

One of the most important things I discovered in my journey to learning my Oma's past is to stand up for what you believe is right. I now respect my Oma's decision, and realize how difficult it must have been for her to reflect upon. Even though she is gone, I feel our relationship is much stronger, and I appreciate the inspiration she gave me.

While I was fortunate to be born in the United States and raised during a time when the horrors of Holocaust had already passed, learning of the suffering experienced in that era allows me the opportunity to appreciate the life I have, and further solidifies why I choose to defend my freedom.