Nearly 2,500 Holocaust survivors and their descendants sent President Joe Biden a letter thanking him for supporting Israel following the terrorist massacre Hamas carried out on October 7th.
The signatories, which included 870 Holocaust survivors, 952 children of Holocaust survivors, 606 grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and 58 great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, told the president how meaningful his support was in light of their own experiences.
“Holocaust survivors lived through the worst of human capability. We witnessed the murder of our families, our communities, and the near annihilation of the Jewish people,” they wrote, before expressing their horror at Hamas’s brutal attack.
“But today is different. Today we have Israel. Today we have the United States of America and a President willing to support the State of Israel and denounce antisemitism at home and abroad. Your unwavering affirmation of Israel’s right to defend itself is meaningful to us,” they said.
You can read the full letter here.
Several survivors also wrote their own notes to the president, in which they shared how the events of recent weeks have reawakened their trauma.
"I had trouble sleeping, thinking about all the innocent people in Southern Israel who were tortured, raped, and viciously murdered. It brings back memories of the past to think how mankind could be so cruel," wrote one.
"During the quiet hours of the evening, I think about the past, how so many of my family members were murdered by the Nazis. I am sad that what is happening today in the Middle East brings back many of my terrible memories," another shared.
"Needless to say my heart is broken witnessing the beastly acts perpetrated by Hamas in Israel. As a survivor, it has evoked fear and disbelief," a third survivor wrote. "We suffered enough, we don't want another Holocaust," one told the president.
One survivor shared that on a college campus, their grandchild has been threatened and the survivor’s adult child had to fly there to help keep that student feeling supported and safe.
Trauma can shatter one’s sense of safety and sense of control over their own destiny, according to Shelley Rood Wernick, Managing Director of the Center on Holocaust Survivor Care and Institute on Aging and Trauma at the Jewish Federations of North America, who organized the letter as an opportunity for survivors to express themselves and regain a small sense of agency.
“Holocaust survivors and many others have been re-traumatized by the attacks,” she said. “At the same time, Holocaust survivors are our models of resilience and strength. Their example will guide the Jewish community as we rebuild.”
Although no one was prepared for this level of horror and attacks so chillingly reminiscent of the Holocaust, organizations working with Holocaust survivors in the U.S. were equipped to use person-centered, trauma-informed approaches to engage with survivors and their families, thanks to grants and training provided by the Center over the past several years.