That night, at the age of 8, my father was forced to walk barefoot in the snow on the same ground where I stood reading his book 76 years later. While reading his story, I fully recognized my responsibility and role as a second-generation messenger.
During my father’s final days, somehow on a level deeper than I can describe, he passed a baton to me. There was no doubt that his message would live on through his book, the Holocaust Studies Program named in his honor at PLU and all the people he inspired throughout his life. There also was no doubt that I would dedicate myself as witness; champion; and even, at times, his eyes, hands and voice.
Jan. 24, 2015, was one of those times.
During that Study Away trip to Germany, sponsored by PLU, we traced some of the most poignant memories of my father’s young life. On our way to Bad Nauheim, we visited Wiesbaden and the flat where my grandfather went into hiding. Inside the cellar, my son, Elliott, began searching for anything that could reveal insight about his great-grandpa’s experience during that time. He called me to the far back of the cellar, where an iron spiral staircase hung out of the ceiling. We looked at each other with shock in our eyes. We knew it was the staircase used by Grandpa Joe to hide from the Nazis. Flooded with emotion, my son and I dropped to sit on a broken step leading to nowhere.
Revisiting the hard realities of the Holocaust, while not easy, is crucial for healing. It is essential for understanding how to stop these kinds of atrocities from occurring. Every time I go back to Germany, I gain more insight, more healing and more peace. I gain a greater dedication to speak out, bear witness and to never forget what happened to my father and the millions of others who were traumatized by the Holocaust or lost their lives.
I am grateful to PLU for providing this special opportunity to honor my father and share his story as an educational tool, and it allowed my son to bear witness to his Opa’s life as a young boy growing up in Nazi Germany.
Natalie Mayer plans to continue to take classes at PLU and most likely will earn a degree in Sociology/Psychology with a minor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She might even be at PLU when her son Elliott starts in 2017.