A hush fell over our noisy 11th-grade classroom as our principal walked in. She informed us that we would have a guest speaker the following day, the grandmother of one of our classmates, who would share her Holocaust experience with us. It was clear from my peers’ responses that they were quite eager to hear her story. I found their quiet anticipation somewhat perplexing . . . didn’t they all know their own grandparents’ Holocaust stories? What was so exciting about hearing one more?

When our native Yiddish speaker arrived the next“Yellow is a terrible color. We don’t wear yellow.”day, I could tell that many of my friends were hearing a survivor’s story for the first time. This was a shocking revelation for me! Not everyone’s grandparents were survivors? Didn’t all grandparents come from Europe and go through the war? And if all four of my grandparents were survivors, did that make my background unique?

Growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust, my siblings and I inevitably—although unintentionally—triggered traumatic memories for my grandparents. I recall one such episode when I was 9 or 10; I tried on my newest Shabbat attire for one of my grandmothers. “Ich!” she said, to my surprise. “Yellow is a terrible color. We don’t wear yellow.” And with that response she walked away with a look of sheer disgust. I stood there speechless, with tears starting to gather in my eyes. My mother quickly came to my rescue and explained, “Sari. Don’t worry, you look very pretty. It’s just that in Europe your grandmother had to wear a yellow star, and since that time she cannot tolerate the color yellow.” How could I have known that I was upsetting her with my yellow dress? I quickly went back to my room to change, and that was the last time I ever wore yellow.

For most of my grandparents, tears were an unavoidable part of every family event or occasion. As I got older, I learned that the tears meant different things for each grandparent. My zaide felt guilty that he survived and merited to have Yiddishe nachas (Jewish pride from one’s children and grandchildren) while the rest of his family perished. Bubby couldn’t experience any happy occasion without being reminded of all the suffering she went through to reach that point. My other bubby cried tears of gratitude to G‑d for allowing her to survive. And my fourth grandparent, my maternal grandfather, did not display any emotion at all; it was always hidden behind an impenetrable wall. The only time I ever saw him cry was when his older sister died when he was in his 80s. He felt that as the last remaining member of his nuclear family, he was now truly alone.

I recall being given a third-grade assignment to write about a hero we knew, someone we wanted to emulate. I chose one of my bubbies, explaining that she was an expert at recycling, washing even her disposable plastic cups and cutlery for future use. Although my teacher didn’t make any overt comments, I recall that she didn’t seem impressed, and in my third-grade mind I didn’t understand why. It was only years later that I realized this behavior wasn’t normal; it was a result of a scrimping mentality many survivors struggled with. Never mind that later in life Bubby had no financial concerns, and walked around with jewelry that cost enough to cover my family’s living expenses for half a year; that scrimping mentality, which was typical of many Holocaust survivors, never left her.

I once brought a friend over for a Shabbat meal at Bubby’s house. Had I realized my friend was a picky eater, I might have chosen to bring along a different guest, or at least warn my friend of my bubby’s background. But I realized my mistakeI realized my mistake too latetoo late. When my friend left the crust of the challah on her plate, eating only the soft white center, she was given a lecture about wasting food. My friend was clearly embarrassed. I never brought another friend along with me to Bubby’s for a meal.

I once went with Bubby to her doctor’s office for a routine appointment, only to find out they had made a mistake in the scheduling and didn’t have room to see her that day. As it was a considerable effort for us to get there—having hired a driver to take us back and forth—she was none too pleased. The secretary apologized for causing her so much anguish, to which Bubby told her, “You call this anguish? This is an inconvenience. I went through the Holocaust, and that was real anguish.”

The secretary was so surprised that she ran to tell the doctor what Bubby had said. The doctor himself came out, saying, “Mrs. Blum, did you really survive the Holocaust? I have never met a survivor before.”

I don’t remember if he agreed to see Bubby that day, but I do recall that Bubby found the entire incident quite comical later on.

Being what they called “greenhorns,” my grandparents greatly valued education and getting ahead in American society. In fact, the only valid excuse my sister and I had for getting out of household chores was studying for exams or writing school reports. When I graduated college, I had no interest in attending my graduation, which consisted of many hours of monotonous speeches. But Bubby was horrified when she heard this, telling me, “But I want to attend a college graduation!” Of course, I then had no choice, and went in order to give my grandparents the nachas they felt they deserved. I think Bubby was one of the few people who stayed awake for the duration of the program, later quoting some of the dean’s “brilliant words” at our Shabbat table.

Recently, when my mother broke her wrist and needed surgery, my grandmother called me up. “Sari, I think your mother is not telling me the truth, and hurt herself more than she is letting on. What really People think the Holocaust ended in 1945, but its impact is still being felthappened?”

This phenomenon of my parents shielding their own parents was a game I grew up with. I always struggled when put in situations like this; after all, didn’t my grandparents have a right to know what was going on? But perhaps my parents understood their own parents’ vulnerabilities better, and it was not my place to tell the truth? Ultimately, my siblings and I were trained to ask: “Do the grandparents know about this, and what should we tell them if they ask?” Of course, there were times when we slipped and revealed things we shouldn’t have.

Most people think the Holocaust ended in 1945. But for survivors and their descendents, even generations later, its impact is still being felt.