"We vow in the name of dead parents and children. We vow, with our sadness hidden, our faith renewed. We vow, we shall never let the sacred memory of our perished 6 million be scored or erased . . . We take this oath. Vision becomes word, to be handed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, from generation to generation."
The first -- and the organizers of the event say -- the last gathering of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust ended here last night when 5,000 survivors and their children assembled for the closing ceremony of this four-day gathering so the survivors could pass on the "legacy of the Holocaust" to their children.
The legacy, read in six languages by six survivors and accepted by six children of Holocaust survivors, is a pledge to remember and to continue reminding the world what happened to Jews in Europe between 1939 and 1945.
The closing ceremony ended a day of discussion here by members of the "Second Generation" about their responsibility to carry on the legacy of what their parents suffered and endured. At the same time, the 4,000 or so survivors who came here from abroad and the 1,000 participants who now live in Israel sought each other out to renew friendships shattered by World War II, to seek word of missing relatives or simply to tell -- some of them for the first time -- the story of what happened to them.
This has been a week not only for reunions but for discoveries. Parents who have kep their stories from their children have begun talking about their buried past. Children who wondered what was in the black box of their parents' past have begun to find out.
One child of a survivor of Auschwitz said he saw for the first time this week a picture of his mother when she was a girl. "That was the first time I had visual proof that my mother had been a child," he said.
"I know," he continued, "since I've been a child I've had these fantasies about what happened to her. My mother was 14 when she went into the camps. She was very attractive. I've always had to wonder whether she was sexually abused."
These were heavy burdens for children to bear. The end of innocene may have come sooner for them, and more painfully, than for other children. Recently, said Renee Krause, 22, of Hollywood, Fla., whose father survived Auschwitz and whose mother was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, her father had begun -- finally -- telling his story to her. "I don't think I learned the whole story -- whether it was guilt, embarrassment for some of the actions they had to take to stay alive. My father said to me once, 'I don't know how you'd feel about me if I told you all of what happened to me.' I'd like to know . . . Even if he did something atrocious."
Last night, the survivors and their children crowded into the plaza in front of the Western Wall of the Second Jewish Temple destroyed by Roman soldiers almost 2,000 years ago. The poignancy of the setting could not have been more vivid for the survivors and their children in capturing the sense of celebration in their survival and redemption that was the intended purpose of gathering.
But the real import of the closing ceremony was summed up by one of the survivors. "We are growing older," he said. "We may never again gather together as we have this week. The burden of preserving the legacy of the Holocaust is now to be passed on to our children and to the Jewish people."
For much of the week, several hundred members of the Second Generation have been meeting to discuss shared problems and to talk about how they can carry out the special responsibility they feel to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten.
Renee Krause said she feels a special obligation to make up for those who were killed. "I feel I have to accomplish, I have to achieve, to compensate for all those who died who can't achieve in their lives."
This sense of obligation -- some described it in terms of a burden -- ran through the comments of several Second Generation participants.
Robert Greenwald, 22, of New York, described how his parents came out of the camps after the war, married and began a "struggle for survival," beginning with menial jobs and scrambling to provide him with opportunities they never had. "They made it possible for me to choose anything I want," he said. "The expectation of me is so great. I feel that not only am I doing it for myself, but for them."
Elie Wiesel, chairman of the President's Commission on the Holocaust and honorary co-chairman of this gathering that brought together Jews from 23 countries, described te legacy of the Second Generation in more cosmic terms earlier in the day.
"I may sound arrogant," Weisel told a press conference, "but I do believe that only the memory of the Holocaust can save the world from destruction . . . I'm no longer afraid only for the Jewish people. Now I'm afraid for everybody -- that once the world would start with the Jewish people, it would mean its own end. I'm afraid, yes. There's indifference. There's antiSemitism. There's racism."
Returning to the same theme in the closing address of the gathering last night, Weisel said the meaning and the responsibility for the survivors and their children are clear. "In an age tainted by violence, we must teach coming generations of the origins and consequences of violence," he said. "In a society of bigotry and indifference, we must tell our contemporaries that whatever the answer, it must grow out of human compassion and reflects man's relentless quest for justice and memory. And we must insist again and again that it is the Jew who carried that message to mankind."