Lola and David Swede, Holocaust survivors, beginning their new lives together after being liberated

Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945. Today, the world regards Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in most countries. Although this is the more widely recognized day of remembrance, the people of Israel and Jews worldwide remember a different day of remembrance. Yom HaShoah is the name of Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day, which takes place in April or early May. Based on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the date fluctuates according to the Jewish calendar.

This topic is very personal to me as I have a direct connection to the Holocaust. Both sets of my paternal great-grandparents are survivors of World War II, and I was lucky enough to meet them.

One of my great-grandmothers, Lola, gave a speech in 2010 at a local synagogue for Yom HaShoah where I learned a lot about her background and history. She grew up in Poland with her mother, father and eight siblings. They were happy there, having friends and family never far, but that all changed on Sept. 1, 1939.

When the war made its way to Poland, my great-grandmother said Lodz, her home city, was never the same. What had once been a big, beautiful city with thriving culture had been reduced to a closed-off Ghetto. She was forced to work and could no longer able to attend school. There was very little food in the Ghetto, and people began to die.

It wasn't long before the Nazis sent her entire family to a sorting camp where she lied about her age. By saying she was 19, my great-grandmother passed the selection along with three of her sisters. Her mother and three younger sisters, one of whom was only nine, did not.

She stayed at Auschwitz for ten days before being sent by train with no food or water to Zalzcadel, a labor camp in Germany. It was an ammunition factory where she had to fill bullets with gunpowder. Despite bullets randomly being weighed, she intentionally filled as much ammunition as she could with sawdust and whatever else she could find instead of gunpowder, hoping a it would fail, saving the life of a soldier fighting against the Nazis.

On Dec. 30, 2020, my great-grandmother passed away from COVID-19 at the age of 94. During her service, I heard more of her story, including the Zalzcadel concentration camp's liberation.

On Apr. 14, 1945, American soldiers liberated her and her three of her sisters. The soldiers who had freed them lined up several Nazi officers against a wall and offered the women rifles. The soldiers told them that they would turn their backs and not look, and no one would stop the girls from killing the guards who had kept them, prisoner. My great-grandmother and a group of girls stepped forward and said no - that they wouldn't kill the Nazis who had overseen them and wouldn't allow for anyone else to either.

The American Soldiers asked why they wouldn't allow the Nazis to be hurt. They said that the General saved their lives. In the weeks leading up to their liberation, the General of Zalzcadel was instructed to detonate the bombs under the camp, which would have killed them all. The General defied Nazi orders, and in turn, the newly liberated women did not think it was right to kill them.

Her example of forgiveness amazed me. Yom HaShoah and International Holocaust Remembrance day are about remembering those who were brave enough to forgive the cruel world that had taken everything from them. To remember the Holocaust, we need to remember the people it affected. Every survivor's story was different. They were freed at different times, escaped to other countries, and made new lives worldwide.

My great-grandma ended her Yom HaShoah speech by saying, "This is my story, a part of my story. There are many more stories that I and others can tell." Whether you celebrate Yom HaShoah in the spring or observe Holocaust remembrance on Jan. 27, think about the people. The soldiers who died, the millions of lives lost, those imprisoned, and those who survived. Remember them and their legacies of forgiveness.

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