Skip to Content


Pennsylvania state icon

Rep. Houlahan: My father survived the Holocaust by a miracle. It shouldn’t take a miracle to be Jewish and alive | Opinion

While celebrating my dad's 80th birthday, I got a text message alerting me to the hostage situation at the Texas synagogue.

Last Saturday, my father turned 80. At least, we think he did.

According to his birth certificate he was born January 15, 1942, in Warsaw. But he was more likely born in Lwow.

What we do know is that he was born to Jewish parents in Europe during World War II. And we strongly suspect that all but three of his family members were brutally murdered in the Holocaust.

We also don’t know much about how my infant father made it safely through the war, after which he was able to be reunited with his mother and grandmother. We know that his last surviving relative, a cousin who is now 93, helped to hide him and his mother in a Warsaw park near a church while he awaited placement in the care of a Christian family. We know a Catholic priest forged documents for him.

Hidden in plain sight until the end of the war, my father survived. A small child at war’s end, he was already a miracle.

This past weekend, we were able to celebrate with him and my mother, his wife of 57 years. It was cold and uncomfortable. We were all masked and outdoors in 30-degree weather. But we celebrated nevertheless — celebrated my dad’s life of devotion to family and service to the country that welcomed him as a religious refugee at the age of four. We celebrated the miracle of his life.

And the very same day that we celebrated my father’s life, a gunman entered a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.

I learned about the hostage situation when a colleague texted me at my dad’s party. I didn’t tell them all immediately; it was too hard to process at first, and I didn’t want to ruin my father’s celebration.

In the hours that followed, I thought of the Jewish members of the Congregation Beth Israel who witnessed a livestream of a gunman entering and taking hostages in their sacred home, including their beloved rabbi. I thought of the Tree of Life synagogue in my home state of Pennsylvania that dealt with this same terror not too long ago. I thought of all the rabbis and faith leaders I’ve met who conduct safety drills to protect their members.

And I thought of my father, who at less than one year old, was apparently left on the steps of a Catholic Church.

One news story that appeared the day after the hostage situation read: “Being Jewish and alive shouldn’t be a miracle.” It reminded me of the text messages my daughters had sent to their beloved grandfather as part of a family group chat after his birthday celebration:

“Thank you for the gift of you, Grampie. Fate truly had miraculous plans on that [church] doorstep back in Poland. Every day is a testament to your love. Happy birthday.”

“To us - you are the miracle Grampie. We are thankful, to you and Gramie, for giving us the family that we have and building the love that we share for one another. We hope today was special. We love you endlessly.”

Being Jewish and alive should not be a miracle.

We as American people, and as part of an international community, must come together to condemn the anti-Semitism that is increasingly present both here and abroad.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27th. We must all commit ourselves — and we must demand others to similarly commit themselves — to never, ever forget. For yet again, we must remain vigilant and reject the vile anti-Semitic violence finding root in our communities.

And to be clear, those who do not stand with the Jewish people and acknowledge our shared history are also jeopardizing the prospect of our collective future in a world that is peaceful, civil, and decent. We must come together and build a society rooted not in bigotry, but in our shared understanding and respect of all persons.

As we move forward, let us never forget our history but also our humanity — the miracles of so many families, just like mine.

Chrissy Houlahan represents the 6th Congressional district of Pennsylvania, including Chester County and Reading.