My Grandmother’s Courage

Today is especially poignant for me, as the granddaughter of Edna Brill. April 19th marks the day my grandmother joined with thousands of other Jews in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 to resist the Nazis’ plan to transport the remaining Jews in the ghetto to Treblinka for their extermination. This was the largest act of Jewish resistance during World War II. My grandmother’s love for me and her life story have shaped me to be the proud Jewish woman and human rights advocate I am today. I could not be more thankful.

A black-and-white photo of Edna Brill as a young girl. She is looking to the left of the camera and wearing a hat.
Edna Brill as a young girl.

As a young girl, my grandmother risked her life by sneaking in and out of the ghetto each and every day. Able to pass as a non-Jew, she sang on the streets of Warsaw for food to keep her family and others in the ghetto alive, where they faced crowded conditions, filth, disease and starvation. At age nine, she bravely became a “runner” for the ghetto resistance movement—carrying messages between the Warsaw ghetto fighters and the Polish army. Even though she witnessed the deportation of her parents and four siblings to the death camps, my grandmother’s remarkable spirit enabled her to survive and, after the war, build a new life and family.

My commitment to build a better world today is the legacy of my grandmother’s indefatigable quest for human dignity. When I think about how my grandmother and the brave Warsaw ghetto fighters remained hopeful despite having every reason to despair, I’m reminded of the many advocates around the world I have come to know through American Jewish World Service (AJWS). I have met activists who are engaged in their own struggles against hatred and, yes, genocide, often in the face of great danger. I’m reminded of the women I met in Burma while traveling with AJWS last year; women who, much like my grandmother, are risking their lives to protect their homes and livelihoods in the face of ethnic persecution. The world of these Burmese women looks very different from that of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. But I know that they share a desire to shape their own futures, to liberate themselves from ethnic oppression and build a better world.

As a child, 74 years ago today, my grandmother fought for dignity and justice. Today, I honor her legacy as a proud member of the AJWS community, to ensure that all people can live in safety and freedom with respect to their human dignity, culture and religion — no matter who they are or where they live.

For me, ‘Never Again’ means no oppression and no genocide against anyone, anywhere, ever again. Thank you, grandma. You taught me well.

Edna and Mia Brill
Edna and Mia Brill