The Fisher siblings picnic while following their father's journey through the Holocaust.
The High Holy Days are the time of year for forgiveness and healing of wounds that run both shallow and deep. It is a time when our actions are put into perspective and we ultimately try to better ourselves. Now that the holidays are over and we’ve moved on from past events, the traumas of the Holocaust documented in the film “Six Million and One” make it very clear that while deep wounds may be sown up, the scars still remain.
There is a certain pain that is shown in “Six Million and One” the documentary. It is the pain that a second generation can suffer when the first has been so horribly traumatized. As second-generation Holocaust survivors, the members of the Fisher family hold onto considerable anguish. The film records the journey of four siblings as they follow their father’s path through the Holocaust. They read his journal and visit various sites, explaining what he did in each location. During the film the siblings quarrel about whether they should even be reading their father’s journal and investigating his traumas.
I, too, am part of a family dealing with the effects of a traumatic experience. My father was in the World Trade Center on 9/11. I asked him about his experience; I did not know that 11 years later the pain would still be fresh in his mind. When I asked a few questions about that day I brought him to tears, a sight I have not seen in some time and something that truly frightened me.
On 9/11 my father left his building after he heard an explosion; foolishly went back to get his belongings; then came back out and saw what he described as “A raging inferno… Everything was going very fast. You’re sucked into this experience looking up at the tower and there is debris that is falling off. You couldn’t see what it was. If you followed the flecks of debris down, as they got closer you could see they were moving. As the debris got even closer you could see it was not debris at all but people. Then I realized what was happening. People were trapped and were not getting out alive. I turned up the street and there was a tremendous explosion like a clap of thunder above my head and to the right so I flinched. I figured I had three to four seconds before that hits the ground to get out of the way and there were cars, which I could get under. I looked to the left expecting to see a line of parked cars and there was nothing at all, as if the street had already been blocked off. I was completely hung out to dry. I have no actual memory of anything else until I was two and a half blocks away.”
There is a pain that my father will carry for the rest of his life. It is my duty to remember this pain and to carry a part of it with me every day. It is my responsibility, and that of every second generation of survivors, to appreciate what we have, to be thankful and to never forget what the first generation endured.
I imagine Joseph Fisher, the protagonist of “Six Million and One,” carried a similar pain from surviving the Holocaust. That is not to say the two events — 9/11 and the Holocaust — are even comparable. Three thousand people died on 9/11. It would take an attack of that magnitude every day, for six years, to result in the number of deaths in the Holocaust. The two events cannot be compared, but trauma from both is certainly evident.
There is an element of beauty in the film that should not be overlooked and that makes watching the film worthwhile. The darkness of death and the horror of the Holocaust are starkly contrasted with aesthetic beauty — shots of flowers, glowing forests and green fields. There is also beauty in the way that the siblings interact with each other. Everything they do and say is filled with love and care for one another. Even when they have a discussion about which sibling they would look for first if they survived the Holocaust, there is no malice in their tones, no harshness in their reasoning, only love. They remind us that we do not have to deal with traumas alone, and that with support it is possible to overcome hardships.
I was taught that the High Holy Days were a time to forgive and forget. But unlike the sins we throw away during the Tashlich ritual or the events we ask forgiveness for on Yom Kippur, they keep returning. The holidays come every year, and with them fresh sins and traumas to forgive and forget. But whether forgetting is the right answer is not clear.
Maybe the holidays aren’t about moving past events, but about accepting what happened and trying to better oneself. I would like to think that every year we spend a few days thinking about how the past has affected our character.
It is difficult to see how the events of 9/11 or the Holocaust could build character, but they can certainly add perspective to someone’s life. I hope my father understands that I am curious about his life and want to know more about him; I do not want to make his pain fresh in his mind. I also think that the Fisher siblings are better for having gone through their father’s experience, and so is everyone who watches their film and learns their lessons about family, love and not forgetting the past.
There is a certain responsibility to being a second generation trauma survivor, and that responsibility should not be taken lightly. There is a pain that is passed down and cannot be erased once a year. But that does not mean we have to be plagued with pain. Instead we can see the love, and in the case of “Six Million and One,” the light shining through the trees today in the horrid forest of the death marches.
“Six Million and One” is playing in Los Angeles. The DVD will be released in the spring.