Daughter of two Holocaust survivors the "yahrzeit candle" of her family
"I’m named after my mother’s sister who was murdered in Auschwitz,” Rachel Rosen says.
“I was never given a burden but in being told stories about her, you know it transferred to me that I had my life to live but I also had a life to live for someone whose life was snuffed out early.”
Rachel’s mother, Sara Landerer Rosen, survived the Holocaust and World War II in Poland. She later went on to write two books about her experience.
In one, My Lost World, she chronicled her teenage years when surviving meant constant vigilance, living in ghettos. It also meant forced labor cleaning up after mass executions.
Here is an excerpt:
“Our foreman, who had been forced to witness the execution of his wife and children, was beyond caring. Someone sitting in a corner, weeping and clutching a garment, was an everyday sight in our work unit. Each one had a private day of sorrow. Eventually, my day came. While sorting a pile of clothing still warm from the oven, I found two dresses belonging to my little Horowitz cousins, Lalusia and Fela.”
Before her death on March 10, 2014, Sara requested that her daughter to bring together family and friends around the anniversary of her death, and read excerpts of her memoir.
“Among children of survivors there’s a common – it’s a saying, it’s a feeling – there’s always someone in the family that carries that memory, and we call them the yahrzeit candle or the memorial candle,” she says. “And in my family, it’s me.”
She says her mother had wanted to keep that memory alive, the memory of surviving World War II.
In fact, both Rachel’s parents survived the Holocaust, but she says while her mother gradually came to speak about her experience, writing her story into two books starting when Rachel was very young, her father did not.
“My father never talked,” Rachel says. “He never talked about the war. Most of what we know is from my grandmother, his mother. But once in a while something would trigger and he would tell us.”
Her father had spent a year or more in a labor camp in Siberia as a prisoner of war, Rachel says. His mother eventually was able to rescue him.
“When my grandmother arrived at the prison in Siberia the camp doctor said, ‘Oh it’s a very good you’re here because tomorrow we’re going to bury your son,’" she says.
"My father weighed about 72 pounds and he was dying from typhoid," she says. "And she nursed him back to health.”
After surviving the war, the Rosens moved to New York City and eventually made Rochester their home.
Rachel says that one of the many lessons she has taken from her family’s life story is the strength of having faith.
“Faith means different things for different people, but I think faith – whatever that faith is – does help people survive,” she says.