Remembering Those Lost In The Holocaust

Seeing as yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 71st anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, it is only fitting that we take some time to remember those whose lives were so tragically taken away, all too soon. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to listen to Michael Marder, a Holocaust survivor, share his personal story yesterday afternoon. This incredible man was able to survive nine different concentration camps, but unfortunately, no one in his immediate family had such luck.

Hearing Michael Marder tell his story reminded me of just how important it is to continue to share such stories so that we never forget about the atrocities that took place not too long ago. And with that, I’d like to introduce you to part of the Gottheim family. The woman in the photo is my great aunt (my grandmother’s mother’s sister), and pictured alongside her is her husband and three children. Unfortunately, they were never given the opportunity to tell their names, so all I have is a last name to go off of.

The Gottheims lived in Poland, but upon hearing of a potential German invasion, they made the necessary plans to make the trip to America by boat. When they arrived to the docks, each member of the family was inspected to make sure that they were in good enough condition to travel. However, as it turns out, one of the children had an ear infection and wasn’t allowed to board the ship. The father told the mother to take the other two children to America, and he would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The mother refused, and instead suggested that the father take the other two children to America, and she would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The father also refused, and the general consensus was to wait it out together, and make the trip as a family, once the child got better.

Unfortunately for the Gottheims, the German invasion came sooner than they had expected, and the family was murdered in their home before they were able to escape to America.

11 million people were killed during the Holocaust, 1.1 million of whom were children. 6 million of these individuals were Jewish, and others who were targeted and murdered include persons with disabilities, people from the LGBTQ community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma, Slavs, political opponents, and plenty others. So many of these people died without their stories being told, which means to us, they will sadly forever be nameless and faceless. Like the Gottheims, millions of lives were cut short, and who knows what kind of greatness these people could have gone on to achieve?

One would think that we have since learned from the Holocaust, but it was not the first act of genocide to take place in the world, and unfortunately, it was not the last. If we do not remember the atrocities that were carried out just a few decades ago, we will be bound to have history repeat itself. We must never forget the Holocaust, and we must always speak up whenever we see any one person or any group of people being targeted by others. We owe this to the Gottheims, to all of the people who perished during the Holocaust, and to the survivors like Michael Marder who have dedicated their lives to spreading the word about the inhumane treatment they endured.

Martin Neimöller, a well-known pastor once exclaimed:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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Mami Leo’s Legacy Will Always Live On

This past week was a very difficult one because the world lost an incredible human being on Sunday, March 8th. Whenever the medical mission team I volunteer with would go to Guatemala and stay at the orphanage Mami Leo founded nearly thirty years ago, she would remind us to not forget about the children upon our return to the states. Our group stayed at the home for only one week, twice a year, and that’s it. For the other 355 days in the year, Leonor Portela, who was more affectionately known as Mami Leo was at the home with the children by herself. Through the hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and the days with no electricity, Mami Leo was there protecting her children. It takes a special person to dedicate her life just to provide a life for others, and that’s exactly what Mami Leo did.

I flew out to Guatemala City early Wednesday morning and arrived just in time for a beautiful mass held in her honor. The entire church was packed and there was not an empty seat in the building. Looking around the room and seeing just how many people Mami Leo has impacted throughout her life was an incredible sight, and knowing that this wasn’t even close to the amount of people she saved and inspired was even more incredible. The funeral procession commenced once the mass concluded, and it was just as difficult as you can imagine. When the funeral concluded, we drove to the orphanage in Sumpango, Sacatepequez where we all gathered around and talked, sharing stories of Mami Leo with one another.

We lined a bunch of tables next to one another and sat down for dinner in a long rectangular set-up. I sat by the center table, and as I looked to my left and right, a sense of peace overcame me. It was truly a beautiful sight; the table was filled with children of all ages who had been saved by Mami Leo (some of whom are pictured below). Even young adults who no longer live in the home came back to spend time with Memo Leo before her passing, and celebrate her life following this terrible loss. In looking around and taking in the surrounding environment, I realized the true impact of Mami Leo’s life work. Some of the people sitting at the table were among the first few children Mami Leo took in years ago, and they were sitting here with children of their own whom you can tell are provided with unconditional love and support.

The love that Mami Leo gave to her children has been carried on to their own children, and Mami Leo has successfully helped them break the chain of abuse, neglect, and abandonment in Guatemala. They are well-integrated members of society, many in Guatemala, and some in the United States. And what is just as special is the fact that they all still treasure where they come from, the beautiful home Mami Leo took them into, Misioneros Del Camino.

So while we mourn a tragic loss of what I truly believe is a one of a kind saint, we also rejoice in knowing that Mami Leo’s legacy isn’t going anywhere. We can all come together to help fulfill her mission and dream of providing love and support to such children in need, and more importantly, we will never forget Mami Leo, her work, or the thousands of children whom she is survived by. And as she once said, plain and simply, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Descansa en paz Mami Leo.