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DAN LABANOVSKI

"The Journey to Life"

This is the story of children in the Holocaust, ostensibly one of many, but actually it is the special and wonderful story of a group of children that went through some of the atrocities of the camps alone, but together; a group that maintained brave contact throughout the years, from then to the present day.

This is the story of about eight of the children from the group who took a shared journey to their lost childhood. This is my story, a strong and rooted man who threw off the memories of the past when I came to Israel and never spoke about it. It is also the story of my children, who although they can be defined as the second generation of the Holocaust, it was never a dominant factor in our life until the journey in which we first went through a process of discovery and confrontation.

In September 1999, eight of the "children" from the group together took a journey that retraced what had happened to us in the Holocaust, in conjunction with and at the initiative of the Ghetto Fighters' Museum and Har Vagai School in the north of Israel, which undertook the project of commemorating the group's unique story. I, the boy of then, was joined by my daughters and wife, in the hope of creating an aperture to my lost childhood. We set out on a shared journey, a journey that began and ended with life, and between the two encountered death and cruelty face to face. A journey whose reality exceeded all imagination, and the special interaction created by the intergenerational encounter helped us, the children of then, go through a process of discovery and coping with the memories of the past.

Questions very quickly arose, some of them enigmatic, about what brought us together as a group and enabled us to survive in contrast to many others. From where did we draw the strength? Why did the Germans leave us as a group throughout the entire torturous time? How much weight can be allotted to the group "togetherness". It very quickly became clear that this was the journey I had been waiting for all my life, and so had my friends. We returned to the realms of our childhood in Lithuania, to the sources of my strength, and from the there to the route of suffering and evil.

 

The "together" that surrounded the alone, the warmth and the empathy radiated by the students and our presence as a family led me to reconstruct my past in great detail, with an insistence on the most minuscule things, and struggle with them until I could put together the jigsaw puzzle of my fragments of memory. The fortified wall that had protected me from the scenes of the past throughout the years began to fall, and I found myself slowly opening up. The journey became both a journey to the most locked and hidden chests that I had never talked about, and which I had even blocked from all my children's attempts to learn about them.

I went through a wonderful process of rare intensity, which would not have been possible in a different situation. It was moving to watch the process taking place, the angers that remained and rose to the surface, and especially the deep friendship that we still share, such different people, which will perhaps for the first time make clear to us the secret of our sticking to each other throughout the many years that have passed since then – and the strictness with which we maintained the meetings on regular dates throughout the years. The powerful "genies" have been let out of the bottle, and I am still trying today, months after the journey, to cope with the enormous baggage of experiences and emotions.

The return to the realms of darkness with my beloved family enabled me to say goodbye, and more than everything symbolized victory and continuity for me. I feel that we have been privileged to go through an experience that has taken the concept of "remember and don't forget", from thought to action. 

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