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 chance and fate.
The fact that they lived 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, was his immediate family's sole survivor of the Holocaust, as Glatt wrote in an essay for Kveller. He survived several concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Ebensee, where he was finally liberated. Her grandmother, Anna Durst, 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.”
The baby in the photo is now 13. Her great-grandfather has died, but his legacy lives on. Harli does Holocaust education in schools, sharing her grandparents' stories. She recently became bat mitzvah, an important coming-of-age celebration in the Jewish faith.
(Bat/bar mitzvah translates to "daughter/son of the commandments," so technically you become bat mitzvah, though it's also common to hear people say they had a bat mitzvah.)
Glatt lives in Short Hills, New Jersey with her husband, Brian, and their children.
"For us, the horrors of the Holocaust will never be erased," Glatt wrote. "But some days, like today, it is reassuring to know that, as their granddaughter, I am born of such strength and resolve, as are my three children."
After Glatt posted the photo on the Kveller Facebook page, it quickly received over 11,000 likes. Glatt wasn't sure how her grandparents would react to the photo going viral, since they rarely talked 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).
"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."
Glatt's grandfather passed away just shy of his 90th birthday in 2017. Her grandmother has dementia, but is still active and loves spending time with her family, even if she can't always remember who everyone is, Glatt said.
"I know that my grandmother would be so happy that the photo of Harli against my grandfather’s arm is still being viewed and appreciated by so many," Glatt said. "She would be so proud that her first great-grandchild is working to educate younger generations about the horrors of the Holocaust and the dangers of all forms of hatred and intolerance."
Glatt is glad her grandparents' story is still having an impact on people. "It was important back then, and perhaps even more important today," she said.
This story was originally published in 2016. It was updated on Jan. 27, 2023 with new details.