As a young child in Israel, Ori Bachner didn’t fully grasp what being a Holocaust survivor meant. But she grew to understand the darkness and strength in her 90-year-old grandfather’s story of a child who survived the concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.
Pride is a mantle worn by Bachner of Rockville, a third-generation Holocaust survivor who tells her saba’s story at every turn and not without tears.
“I continue to honor his legacy,” said Bachner, who spoke to WJW on April 8, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). “However, it’s not just my saba’s story, but the Holocaust should be known all over the world by everyone. I’m honored to have the opportunity to share my story, and his, with a wide audience.”
She is so powerfully connected to her grandfather, Eli Bachner, that she had her forearm tattooed with the same identification number that was inked on his arm as a way to dehumanize him.
The bluish, indelible image of the Holocaust “is one of the ways I continue to venerate my grandfather and his story,” said Bachner, 33, who teaches first-grade Hebrew and Judaic studies at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School in Washington. “I grew up in a place where there were many Holocaust survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms. I realized that soon there would no longer be Holocaust survivors alive and able to tell their stories. The tattoo is an important symbol to me, a reminder that we cannot forget the Holocaust.”
Eli Bachner is a native Czechoslovakian who lives in Moledet moshav in northern Israel. At Theresienstadt, Eli, 11, and his two friends wrote poems, which were later found there, along with children’s artwork and writings. The collection of creative findings was turned into the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” of which Eli Bachner was the only surviving author. He lost his mother and brother in the Holocaust and made his way to pre-state Israel in 1947.
His poetry has been revived in song by Israeli musician and composer Efi Shoshani and actor and singer Aki Avni.
The special bond of a third-generation survivor to their grandparent comes with the passage of time, Ori Bachner said. “In all stories from the Holocaust, there is an underlying theme of shame. Because of the trauma, it is hard for them to even share their story with their families. However, I saw my grandfather’s initial shame turn to pride as time went on. This change in him allowed me to grow up with a strong man, the leader of my family, who had experienced and survived so much darkness, yet was always there smiling and filling our family with love. When asked how he survived when so many didn’t, he says, ‘It’s because I laughed.’”
Some children of Holocaust survivors carry with them trauma, but as a granddaughter, her saba’s story only makes her stronger, she said. “I am so proud of my family’s story. My grandparents made sure as we got older, we were slowly exposed to the difficult details of the story when it was appropriate. They did a great job of making sure we understood the importance of the story.”
As her grandfather grows older, he cannot tell the story he has told in schools and other places. “I think in the past two years, he cannot do it anymore.”
Bachner thinks back to when she was 18 and visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with her parents at the behest of her grandfather. It was a bright, sunny day until the final 30 minutes of the drive through Poland. That’s when the sky turned black, Bachner recalls. “Auschwitz is a very difficult place, a dark place, God is not there. But, let me experience my saba’s story, see the things I’ve heard about all my life. It was a victory to be there, to stand in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the same dark place my grandfather was. But this time, I am wrapped in the Israeli flag, standing proud. I called my grandfather and I told him: ‘You won, we won because we have Israel. I’m proud to be your granddaughter. I’m proud to be a third-generation Holocaust survivor.”