Human Condition: Remembering Anne Frank, and a world of families lost – The Advocate

Aug. 4 marks the 73rd anniversary of the capture of Anne Frank and her family by the Gestapo in Amsterdam during World War II.

Part of her family would die in Auschwitz. Anne and her sister, Margot, would perish at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

From the ashes of those days of racist fire, the world was bequeathed a diary of family history to twist the souls of reasonable beings.

I am an addict to history.

I love reading about history.

I just wish I had one.

Many of my friends, using sites like, can excavate their family past. I know one person who does it the old-fashioned way, digging through dusty archives in courthouses and public libraries. She’s even gone so far as to travel to Europe to uncover her past all the way back to the royal court of France’s Louis XIV.

I’m not so lucky.

In an ironic way, I don’t have a history because of history.

What I do know is this: My grandfather, Reuben Kamenitz, arrived in New York City from Kovno, Lithuania, sometime around 1910. I don’t know what he worked at, but he saved his money to bring his family over. First his father, Kusiel. Later came his brothers, including Murray, who was a deaf mute.

The rest of our direct line of descendants remained in Kovno, whose 35,000 Jews made up about a third of the city’s population. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the city was home to 40 synagogues and four Hebrew high schools, among many other Jewish institutions. Kovno was the educational, historical and religious center for the Jews of Lithuania.

It is there, on the streets of Kovno on June 25, 1941, that my family history ends.

That’s the day the Nazis arrived.

There werent enough of them at the time to do too much damage, so they just whipped up the local Jew haters in town to lend a helping hand, carrying out Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”

Some 3,800 Jews were hacked, beaten and shot to death. Many were beaten to death with metal rods. One anonymous individual, nicknamed “Death Dealer, has been pictured with his handiwork. He tortured 50 Jews while they hung in a garage.

In a way, then, it was fortunate that at in July, Police Battalion 65, a German mobile extermination unit, arrived. They just systematically lined up another 3,000 Jews and shot them.

As heinous as this litany from hell’s playbook may seem, it was just the warm-up act for Kovno. On the following Oct. 29, the ever-efficient bookkeeping and killing Nazis, with help of Lithuanian volunteers, shot 2,007 Jewish men, 2,920 women and 4,273 children in a single day. It was called “The Great Action” and is documented by the U.S. National Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Before they were forced to retreat in 1944 from advancing Soviet forces, the Nazis used hand grenades and dynamite to burn the Jewish Ghetto to the ground along with anything else Jewish, right down to the last scrap of paper.

So I don’t get to spend a day in a dusty room with genealogy or an afternoon at my desk poking around websites for my bloodline.

Our small family history is basically derived from two sources: an oral narrative from my dad and an old photo stuffed in an envelope I found after he died.

He answered most of my questions about our family tree with “I dont know” or “They are all dead, and we will never know.”

I cant say he was sad, just a little lost when it came to the subject.

I guess its just me wanting roots, to hear family stories that will never be told. To learn about the people who aren’t in the photos.

The old photo on my shelf shows Grandpa Reuben holding my infant father on his lap with my pregnant Grandma Esther and other family members nearby as they make their new life in the tenement houses of Brooklyn.

In a way, it says a lot.

But it’s also a dead end. There are so many people missing.

On Aug. 4, 73 years after they took Anne Frank away, we should all try to remember our history and, hopefully, learn something from it.

Kamenitz lives in New Orleans

Advocate readers may submit stories of about 500 words to The Human Condition at or The Advocate, EatPlayLive, 10705 Rieger Road, Baton Rouge, LA 70809. There is no payment, and stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence.

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Human Condition: Remembering Anne Frank, and a world of families lost – The Advocate

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