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January 26, 2012 - Image 60

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-01-26

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Reflections On Mauthausen


traveled with my father, brother
and nephew to Austria to par-
ticipate in the commemoration
ceremonies marking the 66th anni-
versary of the end of World War II. As
was true for many of the participants,
this commemoration was less about
reliving the horrors of life at that time
and almost exclusively about thank-
ing the American forces who liberated
Mauthausen and the surrounding
With the excep-
tion of my neph-
ew, we had been
"back" before,
having traveled
to Mauthausen
with my dad in
1992 and 1996.
We also had pre-
viously visited
his hometown,
Hungary (now
in Romania), in 1992,1996 and 2001.
Additionally, I was a counselor on the
March of the Living in 1997.
In many ways, this trip was a book-
end experience to the March of the
Living. As a child of a Holocaust sur-
vivor father and an American mother

Dry Bones



January 26 • 2012

Jimmy Lichtman, Ryan Grosinger, Emery Grosinger, Kari Alterman and Eric
Grosinger in front of the Israeli memorial at Mauthausen Concentration Camp,
outside of Linz, Austria

(she calls herself, rightfully so, "a
survivor by marriage"), I am certain
of our Holocaust narrative in the most
absolute terms.
I recognize the
horrors of Nazi
Germany as a
profoundly Jewish
experience (albeit,
sadly, not uniquely
Jewish). And, too,
as part of a group
a generation
removed, I experi-
ence visceral reac-
tions upon hearing
certain words
—Zyklon B, unter-
menchen ("sub-
human"), Hitler
—and possess an
equally reflexive
need to personify
the command,
as I endeavor
to reconcile my
family's eastern
European history
and my place with-
in my American
And that's
where the

commemoration ceremony emerges
for me as a startlingly American
experience. I thought I knew what to
expect — as I said, I've been both to
Mauthausen and to the Yom HaShoah
Auschwitz commemoration before
— but this transcended all possible
expectations. Here, we witnessed the
pan-European tragedy of World War
II that we can scarcely contemplate.
The vast numbers of intellectual and
cultural leaders who were imprisoned,
the religious leaders tortured, the
innocent killed. They were Italian,
Hungarian and Polish. Austrian,
Belgian and Spanish. Russian. French.
Romanian. And they, too, were victims
of the Nazi regime.
Thro . ughout Mauthausen, memorials
from all of these countries and more
dotted the grounds. And, proudly,
Israel stood among them as a mem-
ber of the community of nations. Her
memorial, a large, free-form menorah,
overlooks a lush valley and is set
slightly apart.
On the morning of the commemo-
ration, each of the countries held its
own service in so many languages all
over the complex. Nearly all included
words spoken by religious leaders.
Where there were no clergy present,
still, words of prayer were spoken.
Men and women in military uniforms
from all over the world were present,

with wreaths bearing sympathies and
remembrances of governments and
other groups. And all of the nations,
mourning their own citizens, made a
special stop at the Israeli memorial
— to recognize the Jews among their
population who perished. How moving
it was to see recognition of loss of
those who were never treated as full
citizens in life but were now treated
as such in death. Never before have
I seen Israel as part of the com-
munity of nations as I did there at
Mauthausen on that day in May.
After all of these ceremonies — at
individual country memorials and at
the Israeli memorial — every country
lined up for a procession through the
main gate for the "official" memorial
service. Because it is done alphabeti-
cally, with the United States last in
line, we finally emerged at the front of
the memorial service to a monument
literally covered in wreaths.
As Americans, we were honored to
be included by the American ambas-
sador to Austria, Richard Eacho, as
participants in the official American
delegation. The ambassador walked
behind the military attache, followed
by the survivors and liberators, the
families, and, finally, the Marine Corps
Color Guard. It was a moment of pride
in American moral and military might
that overwhelmed the civilians in the
group. We cried and marched, marvel-
ing at the crowd.
We were supremely impressed and
appreciative of the way the American
military embraced the survivors and
their families. Of the three American
Jewish survivors we met, two (my dad
included) immigrated to America after
the war and served in the American
military. The profound appreciation
by the current military members was
beyond measure. And to see the patri-
otic pride of the "new" Americans was
at times overwhelming. When asked
to share his thoughts at the American
commemoration ceremony, my dad
simply offered "God bless America,
the greatest country in the world."
That summed up the experience for
all who were present.
This family journey brought togeth-
er both the meanings of being a Jew
and being an American. And for both-
of these identifiers, I will forever be

Kari Alterman is the director of the

American Jewish Committee's Detroit office

in Bloomfield Township.

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