At Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, on a youth tour Danielle and I took together at the end of 10th grade, it hit me: The emaciated faces in the photographs of liberated concentration camp victims were the faces of my friends’ parents; the skeletal bodies in huge piles, arms askew, open dead eyes and grimaces of suffering, were the murdered bodies of their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins; for some, the small child corpses were their own siblings—their parents’ first families—thrown up against electrical wire fences for sport. One school friend’s mother had recognized herself in a photograph here, on the wall at Yad Vashem, a gaunt teenager in prison rags whose dark eyes held the awful knowledge she spent the rest of her life trying to strangle.
Danielle Gold was one of these second-generation kids. (To protect Danielle’s privacy, I’ve changed her name as well as those of her family members.) That day at Yad Vashem, I reached for her hand as we walked through those rooms; a moment later, I became aware that there was something cruel in my gesture—like throwing an imaginary buoy to someone struggling to stay afloat.