In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I thought it would be appropriate to share what I read at my son Alec's 2007 bris -- when we officially gave him his Hebrew name.
May all those who perished rest in peace. And may all of us who remain honor their memories.
Alec’s second name, Zachariah, is in honor of my mother’s first cousin, Bronia Jäger.
Some of you already know that my brother Daniel wrote a book called The Lost last year that tracked his round-the-world search to find out what happened to our great uncle Shmiel’s family, who were lost during the Holocaust in my family’s home town of Bolechow, Poland.
Bronia was the youngest of Shmiel’s four daughters and was only 12 or 13 when she died during a roundup at the Bolechow town hall on September 3, 1942. We know, sadly, that she died alone, without her sisters or parents.
Bronia’s older sisters’ stories are told quite vividly in the book, and there are survivors still living who actually knew them well and remember them. We chose to honor Bronia precisely because so little was known about her. Her older sisters’ friends remembered only that she was a sweet, dreamy, polite little girl still young enough to be preoccupied with her toys.
Bronia would have been a woman of 78 this year, and should have had a multitude of family – children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren -- to honor her in this way. We name Alec for Bronia as a mitzvah, a commandment, because there is no one left to remember her. We give him the name Zachariah, meaning “God has remembered” so that her innocent short life is never forgotten. And in doing so we hope by extension to remember so many children like her.
But we want this to be a hopeful gesture, not a morbid or sad one. Bronia represents pure, unfulfilled potential and in naming Alec for her, we hope that he may take advantage of all the opportunities that she was unable to. We hope that he grows up in a world that never knows the hatred and suffering that she had to. We hope that he uses and cherishes every chance presented to him to learn, to laugh, and to love. We hope that he has every opportunity to live life to the very fullest, and to live his life exactly as he chooses, and that he is always mindful what a precious gift that is.