Jessica Glatt should not, by all accounts, be here. For her to be born, both her grandfather and her grandmother had to survive the Holocaust — they miraculously did, by mere chance and fate. The fact that they went on to live long enough to see the birth of their great granddaughter, Glatt’s oldest child, Harli, was so significant that the family decided to commemorate their meeting with a picture of then 3-month-old Harli holding her great grandfather’s arm, his concentration camp tattoo still etched in his skin where it was drawn when he himself was barely a teenager.
Glatt’s grandfather, Max Durst, now 89, was his immediate family's sole survivor of the Holocaust, as Glatt wrote in an essay for Kveller last year, having survived several concentration camps including Auschwitz and Ebensee, where he was finally liberated. Her grandmother, Anna Durst, now 86, was also the sole survivor of her own immediate family and spent the war hiding from the Nazis, often under extremely dangerous conditions.
“There is simply no explanation for the inexplicable,” Glatt wrote for Kveller. “Yet they survived.” Glatt’s grandfather needed some convincing to have the photos of his tattooed arm taken with Harli, but Glatt felt strongly that “this mark of evil…also radiates the very essence of survival.” The resulting photograph, she says, is “beautiful. It is painful. It is my history and my future inextricably linked.”
Glatt lives in Short Hills, New Jersey with her husband, Brian, and children, Harli, now 6, Skylar, 3, and Carter, 1. Her grandparents live in Florida, where they continue to live every day to the fullest, Glatt reports. "Although they have slowed down physically, their minds are sharp, and they still love to play bridge and, of course, spend time with family and friends. They are excited to dance and celebrate at my sister's wedding in a little over two weeks," Glatt told TODAY Parents.
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Since Glatt posted the photo on the Kveller Facebook page last year, it has received over 11K likes. Glatt wasn't sure how her grandparents would react to the photo going viral, since they rarely talk about their experiences in the Holocaust, but they surprised her.
"They were so very moved by people's reactions and were simply incredulous that the photo would evoke such a positive response and from the sheer number of people! The fact that all of the wonderful comments and likes were coming in from people of all different religions and ethnicities made it even more touching for them," said Glatt.
"After I gave my grandparents a quick lesson on how to use Facebook, they were able to scroll through the comments themselves from their home computer. My grandmother told me that she had tears in her eyes as she and my grandfather read through the comments until they couldn't stay awake any longer," said Glatt.
Glatt originally posted the photo to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), which this year starts tonight.
"With each passing year, there are fewer [Holocaust] survivors left to tell their stories," she said. She hopes the photograph of Harli and her grandfather will help the world to never forget the six million people lost.
"Being the grandchild of survivors, I carry both the burdens and the responsibilities of remembering the Holocaust within me," she said. "My husband and I hope to eventually find a meaningful way to commemorate the day together as a family when our children are a little bit older."