Guest Column

Program turns numbers into very special names


At the age of 13, my son has just become a twin. People might think this is a medical miracle. In actuality, it is a lesson in history, compassion and remembrance.

This is all a part of an important lesson my son learned through Hebrew school and from living in our home. We are all part of a greater whole. Each of us has our own lives with our own wants and needs. We all have to take a look outside our own worlds to see what is happening in everyone else’s world.

He has learned that he is his brother’s keeper and there are many people who depend on him. It is important to use our energy and the opportunities we are given to help other people. One person can make a difference by their good deeds. Our family has been active in our community for many years. We have participated in fundraising and awareness raising for Manalapan, finding medical cures, medical issues, Darfur, Israel, and the Jewish community in the states.

As part of my son’s bar mitzvah, he collected and shipped 450 pounds of books to a learning center in Kiryat Shemona that used to be a bomb shelter through the Jade Bar Shalom Books for Israel Project.

Part of being his brother’s keeper is remembering history and learning from it. There is a program at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Israel, called the Names Recovery Campaign. Victims of the Holocaust are paired with bar and bat mitzvah teens and people of conscience who then learn about their lives and memorialize them.

The generation of people who lived through the Holocaust are the only ones left who remember the lives that were lost. That generation is aging and will soon be gone. With them go the memories.

Six million Jews perished. Thirteen million people perished. Each one had a name and a face and a life. Each one is a story to be heard. Each individual has a right to be remembered as a person and not just a number making up a huge total. This program at Yad Vashem allows us to step back in time to make each victim a real person you can relate to.

Benjamin Roussak was born in France on Oct. 18, 1925. My son, Brad, has the same birthday in 1994 and his Hebrew name is Benjamin. This is why he was assigned as a twin for Brad’s bar mitzvah on Nov. 17.

When we got the name of his twin in March, we wanted to find out as much about him as we could.

Google is a wonderful thing. We found a woman in France who spent 12 years researching one of the deportations of the Jews in France, Convoy 73. Her father was on that convoy and she wanted to trace what happened to him.

The Nazis kept very careful records of their proud deeds, so she was able to get a list of who was on board. She was able to track down the names of all 878 deportees, interviewed the survivors and their families, and pieced together their stories into a book. There were 15 cattle cars sent to Lithuania and Estonia on May 15, 1944, just days before Paris was liberated. Benjamin Roussak and his father, Henri, were among them along with the author’s father. Of the 873 men who were deported on this convoy, only 23 survived. There were 37 boys between the ages of 13 and 21 on the train.

Eve Line Blum, the author, put us in touch with Benjamin’s first cousin, Jacqueline, his only surviving relative. They grew up as close as brother and sister. Henri Roussak was one of seven brothers. They and their families all perished except Jacqueline. She never knew what happened to Benjamin.

His mother was in the hospital and came out to find her husband and son had disappeared. No one knows if she ever found out what happened. She went into shock and stopped talking completely after her husband and only child were gone, and died exactly a year after the deportation, of a broken heart.

Through Eve’s research, they now know, through us, that Benjamin and Henri were among 160 prisoners shot and killed in the forests of Lithuania.

Jacqueline and her daughter, Joelle, have sent us photos of Benjamin as a child and right before he was deported. They have shared stories of his short life, and this has made him real to us.

No one has ever said Kaddish for him, the prayer for the dead. His immediate family was gone, and with them the name Roussak. Jacqueline was the last person with the name of Roussak. With the loss of her entire family, she also lost all hope and belief in religion.

63 years later, Benjamin Roussak is remembered. His story will hang in the Hebrew school wing at Temple Beth Shalom, Manalapan. We have put up a Yizkor (memorial) plaque there so that each and every year, he will always be remembered.

The Roussak name lives on.

I urge each reader to check out the Web site for this program and teach your children a life’s lesson. It costs nothing. The rewards will change your family forever.

One person can make a difference, whether it is you or the person you are researching. Don’t allow the lives lost to the Holocaust to fade into history.

Susan Heckler is a resident of Manalapan.