Bringing Lessons of the Holocaust into 2022

The last several emails in our Family Legacy Planning series have revealed the atrocities suffered by my family in the Holocaust. My Zaidy’s eye was poked out in a Russian czarist pogrom in his village in Ukraine. My grandfather Meyer at age 9 escaped a firing squad in Poland when he was caught seeking work after curfew. My son-in-law Ira’s grandmother Miriam survived Auschwitz, coming out at 72 pounds. Her only surviving relative was her brother Adolf (“Unkie”), also imprisoned in forced labor and concentration camps. Profoundly, Unkie declared “We beat Hitler!” on his deathbed as he observed the birth of Jewish descendants, including my granddaughter Stella who started a new generation in our family. These Holocaust stories have stirred a powerful reaction, especially given the parallels with the atrocities now happening in Ukraine.

It’s a well-known proverb that “unless we learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” Considering the present-day Russian aggression, I fear we aren’t adequately learning from history. It’s critical that we preserve and pass down stories of ancestor survival to our heirs. The need is especially urgent as the generation of Holocaust eyewitnesses is rapidly perishing. That brings me to my message today. How can we best bring our ancestors’ stories into 2022?

My daughter Lizzy Savetsky has a solution. Lizzy has a vast Instagram following and is using these stories to sound an alarm. We must never forget! Remember the people we come from and draw courage from them. Lizzy’s megaphone literally and figuratively awakens us that we cannot stand by silently while our brothers and sisters are persecuted and murdered. Laurie and I stand in awe of Lizzy’s heart and bravery.

Lizzy’s premise is that the ultimate way to preserve memories is to see where it happened with our own eyes. To that end, Lizzy joined a Heritage Trip to Poland sponsored by Jewish International Connection New York. Lizzy went to Auschwitz. She sat on the railroad tracks where cattle cars brutally transported millions of Jews to their death. She saw the barbed wire fences with the sign proclaiming the Nazi lie “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Indeed, work did not make them free. Lizzy stood in the place where her husband’s grandmother was forced to gather the possessions of gas chamber victims, finding her own mother’s monogrammed handkerchief and thereby discovering that her mother had been gassed to death. She saw a room filled with hundreds of thousands of shoes of victims and realized every shoe was once on a person’s foot. The six million victims were not statistics. They were the people who wore these very shoes.

When Lizzy returned, she wrote her reflections from being there in person, in the place where it happened. Click here to read her heartrending summary of the trip. Imagine the powerful disconnect to stand in a beautiful forest in Poland and try to reconcile how, in that very place of nature’s paradise, Nazis could line up thousands of Jews and shoot them into a ditch, many buried alive. Lizzy closes with a quote from the rabbi on their trip: “The Nazis tried to bury us, but they didn’t realize we are seeds.” Those tortured souls who were buried in that ditch are now sprouting new life, lives like my five grandkids Stella, Juliet, Lucy, Ollie, and Grey.

How does this message of family heritage and travel tie into The Blum Firm’s work in Family Legacy Planning? Here’s how. Every family has roots. It’s important for future heirs to go in person “to the place where it happened.” As Lizzy pointed out to me last week, it’s even more meaningful if a trip like this is taken as a family. Family travel, whether a roots trip or other travel, helps keep a family unified. I’ve previously quoted author Mitzi Purdue as she credits annual family travel as the foremost reason her family (heirs to Sheraton Hotels and Purdue Chicken) stays connected. In creating your estate plan, I strongly urge you to set aside funds in a separate trust to be used to pay for family travel and other family enrichment, like family meetings, training, and experiences. If you fail to fund it, my observation is that it stops happening after the patriarch and matriarch are gone. The fund can be a FAST Trust (Family Advancement Sustainability Trust) or any other trust vehicle. Consider dedicating a life insurance policy to fund the trust, a convenient way to provide the money without disrupting the rest of the inheritance.

The Blum Firm would be honored to help you build such a family enrichment fund into your estate plan. We want to partner with you to keep your ancestors’ stories alive and help future generations of your family stay connected.

Marvin E. Blum

Marvin Blum’s daughter Lizzy Savetsky on the railroad tracks at Auschwitz, feeling a connection to the millions of murdered Jews transported there in cattle cars, on those very tracks.