Fay Brandwein: “My Mother, the Hero.”

Interviewing Fay Brandwein. April 2012. Forest Hills, NY. (left to right) Sarah Kamaras, Fay Brandwein, Harrison Geller.

Today we commemorate the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day or “Yom Hashoah,” marking over 70 years since the horrific events of the Holocaust occurred.  Yom Hashoah is twofold: a day to remember those who were murdered and also to appreciate those who have survived.

This year I have felt that appreciation more than ever through my relatives that I have interviewed over the past five months. Hearing about their fight to survive has reminded me that without their persistence, courage, and will to live, not only would they not be here today, but I, as well as my family, would not be here today.

My cousin Fay Brandwein’s stories really emphasized this notion. Last Sunday, I sat down with Fay for what would become almost three hours of stories of struggle and survival. While Fay was only a young child during the war, she was able to recount her experience in the Holocaust through the stories her mother told her.

Fay’s appreciation for her mother was boundless. Her father, Aaron Geller, was taken to a labor camp and never returned and her mother, Sarah, was left to care for Fay and older brother, Josh. Fay told myriad stories of how her mother, who she referred to as a hero, helped save her and her brother, always ensuring that her children had what to eat and where to sleep as they fled from bunker to bunker.

(Video: Fay recounts one of her mother’s many heroic acts)

“She could’ve said, ‘I’ll never make it, I might as well give up.’ But she didn’t,” Fay said.

Sarah’s perseverance not only helped her and her children survive but also had a lasting impact on Fay. Fay continues to share her mother’s stories by speaking about her family’s experience to various schools and organizations. “The most important thing in my opinion is not to give up and say ‘Well my parents are gone so let’s forget about the Holocaust,” Fay said, “No, on the contrary. Get involved, do good by letting the world know and don’t give up.”