‘We Didn’t Just Give Up’

Posted on August 5, 2022

Sarah Pernik (center), 18, is a recent graduate of Ladue Horton Watkins High School in St. Louis, MO.

For Sarah, seeing was believing.

“I always heard statistics, but really seeing [the death camps] gave me a better understanding of how it happened and how terrible it was,” she says.

Sarah knew she had several family members who died in the Holocaust, but she says that when she saw their names in black and white, it clicked – for real.

“The Book of Names at Auschwitz hit me hardest,” Sarah says. “When I found my mother’s maiden name, I definitely broke down. There were seven relatives [listed there.] They died in Minsk and I knew that, but I didn’t know if their names would be in the book. And they were.”

When asked what the most meaningful part of the trip was for her, Sarah smiles and says, “The Book of Names at Auschwitz.”

“Seeing my mom’s last name printed there – it was bad and everything – but [these relatives] are remembered. They are not lost in history,” she says.

Recognizing this duality – and yet seeing the bright sides of things – is something that Sarah focused on throughout the trip, and what she calls her main takeaway.

“There was all this death and sadness,” Sarah says, “but we’re also rebuilding. We didn’t just give up after [the Holocaust.] We fought through it and we’re still fighting through it.

“It’s hard to put into words, but I guess you can say there’s happiness in the sadness.”