January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to remember the six million Jews and millions of others targeted for murder by the Nazi regime. Entire families and their communities vanished during the Holocaust– forced to flee their homelands, detained at concentration camps, and murdered. Their tragic experiences continue to affect the lives of their family members and descendants.
Secretary Blinken is among them as the stepson of a Holocaust survivor. His stepfather spent nearly four years in a labor and death camp before he managed to escape and was later rescued by American troops. The Secretary affirmed, “Every day that I serve as Secretary of State, I will carry the memory of my stepfather and his family, and the six million Jewish people and millions of others who were killed during the Holocaust.”
Here at the State Department, we have numerous colleagues who are also descendants or family members of Holocaust survivors. Their families’ experiences have had a profound impact on them and their commitment to public service. Here are some of their stories.
Mark Mishkin is a Foreign Service Officer serving at the U.S. Embassy in Panama
“Holocaust issues are more than just a vague human rights concern for me; they’re deeply personal. My grandfather, Samuel Goldberg, survived Auschwitz-Birkenau. I grew up hearing his stories and in the mid-nineties, traveled to Eastern Europe with him, my parents, and my grandmother to visit their hometowns. They had not returned since liberation. I stood with Papa, in Auschwitz, as he pointed to one area – telling me, ‘this part was the Gypsy camp.’ One of the most profoundly disturbing moments in his entire life was the night he saw the smokestacks going all night long, only to discover that all of the Roma in the camp had been killed and burned that night. He looked up to God and said, ‘All these people committed the same crime that they should be burned?’ He was of course referring to one of the prayers we say during Yom Kippur. It shook his faith to the core and I don’t think it ever recovered from that.
It was my grandparents’ experience that ultimately drove me to serve my country in the State Department. They loved America so very much. Papa used to say that this was the Messiah’s time. In the United States. My profound appreciation for all that America has done for my family pushes me every day to do my best work.”
Jonathan Shrier is a Foreign Service Officer serving at the U.S. Embassy in Israel
“When my father and his parents and grandmother escaped from Poland, there were several intersections with diplomacy. My grandfather had a friend at the Swedish embassy in Lithuania who tipped him off to Japanese Consul and Dutch Honorary Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania. They issued the ‘visas for life’ that enabled my family, like others, to travel across the trans-Siberian railway and then to Yokohama, Japan, where they boarded one of the last cruise ships heading to the United States filled with refugees along with foreign diplomats leaving Japan as tensions rose in the Pacific. When the United States denied my family entry due to refugee quotas being oversubscribed, they went to Mexico City. They were able to stay there only because my grandfather served as the commercial attaché at the Polish Government-in-Exile’s embassy. Eventually, they received permission to enter the United States. My decision to become an American diplomat was deeply influenced by my family’s resilience and courage and that of the diplomats that helped them along the way.”
Susan Benda is an Attorney Adviser serving in Washington, D.C.
“Both my parents were Holocaust survivors from the former Czechoslovakia. My mother survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz and my father fled to Asia, where he was imprisoned by the Japanese before eventually getting to the United States. His parents were murdered in the Chelmno extermination camp in Poland.
When I was young, my parents never talked about their past. I knew we were Jewish, that they had accents, and we had no relatives. My mother hadn’t spoken publicly about her experience in the Holocaust until 1979 when she was interviewed for a Yale University oral history project.
My parents inspired me to be an advocate for justice, which I’ve been able to do through my role at the Department of State. Every day I work to stand up to the voices of hatred, division, and oppression and help fulfill our country’s promise to be a beacon of democracy and justice in the world.”
Through these stories and all those untold, the State Department honors those who lost their lives during the Holocaust, the survivors, and the liberators. We stand firmly in confronting modern manifestations of antisemitism and hate, wherever they occur. As Secretary Blinken said, “We remember that evil on a grand scale can and does happen, and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to stop it.” Never again.