Who Will Fill Their Shoes?

Reading the obituary of a Holocaust survivor this morning, reminded me that far too soon there will be no survivors left.

This stark realization brought to my mind a country song by George Jones–regarded by many as the greatest of all country singers–“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”

In the song Mr. Jones refers to an impressive list of country singers who have died and asks essentially, “Who will take their place? Who will do for us what they did?”

I ask that question about the Shoah.

When there are no Holocaust survivors left, who is going to speak with first hand knowledge of Nazi cruelty? Whose stories will offer chilling testimony to the depths of bestiality to which human beings can descend? Who will speak with first hand knowledge of the power of hope in the face of unspeakable horror? Or in the words of George Jones, “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?”

Of course those of us in the second generation–we whose parents fled from or survived Hitler–must tell their stories with passion and empathy. We must do so not to wallow in the misery of the past but to learn from it.

When I speak in Germany to high school students I always say, “Wir können die Vergangenheit nicht ungeschehen machen, aber wir können gemeinsam an einer besseren Zukunft arbeiten. “We cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape!”

Yes, we of the second generation must do our best to tell the story, but the next decades will fly by quickly and soon, we will be gone as well.

When that time nears I hope others will find effective ways to teach a new generation to learn the lessons of the past in order to shape a better future. I pray that others will find ways to answer George Jones’ question: “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”


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