Michael Gerson

Traum only hints at the hardness of his life as a refugee. The gentile family that took him in was authoritarian, forbidding him and his sister to converse in German. After the bombings of London began, he was evacuated to the home of an emotionally abusive young couple. "I remember the woman telling me that the best thing Hitler ever did was get rid of the Jews."

Traum celebrated V-E Day in Trafalgar Square. But after seeing pictures from the death camps following their liberation, he knew his parents would not have survived. He went on with an eventful life -- joining the Israeli army when the state of Israel was declared and marrying a Holocaust survivor who had been hidden as a child by a Belgian family. He never knew the details of his parents' fate.

Until this year. In their strange, exacting bureaucratic professionalism, the Nazis kept a record of the transport of Elias Israel and Gitel Sara Traum, who left Vienna by train on June 2, 1942. His parents would have died three to five days later in Minsk. We know from witnesses that groups of men, women and children were taken to open areas, made to dig a trench, and were shot and buried. From Gestapo forms, Traum learned his parents' birthdays and the likely day of their death -- neither of which he had known before.

Museum researchers have given Traum a gift. "I don't like the word closure," he says, "because I don't have any such thing. But it is good to know something of what happened. To put a date to that, so I can commemorate their deaths."

But the greater gift is Traum's to us: the memories of a 9-year-old Austrian boy of how hate and anti-Semitism and a Holocaust begin -- with a satchel thrown in a park.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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