January 27th was the day Auschwitz and my grandfather were liberated. Unlike my Bubby, he almost never talked about what happened to him. Once he told me, “the things I’ve seen you will never understand, and I don’t ever want you to”.
He did tell me this though. He has a number tattooed on his arm. The Hebrew letters that spell out life, Chai (also my grandfather’s name), numerically add up to 18. My Bubby’s name also means “to breathe and to live,” a fact she did not take lightly in her survival. The number that they inscribed on my grandfather’s arm, coincidentally or serendipitously, totaled 18. One of my favorite things he ever said was, “They tried to write our deaths, little did they know they inscribed life onto our arms.”
Once my grandparents passed away, I tattooed their Hebrew names onto my left ankle, a reminder that they are my foundation and always walking with me. I think about them everyday and all that it took for me to be here living and breathing. I believe their souls have found a peace they could not know in waking life.
I was inspired by a story about a group of people in Poland about to be executed by the Nazis who were forced to sing by the commander carrying out the order. In Yiddish, one of my ancestral tongues, they sang Mir veln zey iberlebn—”We will outlive them”.