Those words were seared into me as a child. As Jews gathered in N.Y.C. on Sunday for the annual Gathering of Remembrance at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, they came together as community to say we will never forget the horrors of the Holocaust.
It followed another day of tragedy. For the second time in 6 months, a white supremacist invaded a synagogue on Sabbath and opened fire. As the climate of hate violence and anti-semitism rises in our own country in our own days, as our own president continues to support “the fine people of Charlottesville” it is worth remembering this story again.
Past has become present in the most horrifying way.
When I saw the Nazi flag that symbol of the Third Reich being waved proudly through the streets of Charlottesville, all I can see is a little Polish boy, homeless, hungry and cold living in a crowded Displaced Persons camp in postwar Germany, lingering for four years in search of refuge.
When I heard those angry neo-Nazis chanting hate filled slogans like “Jews will not replace us” on American soil, I see the same little boy who would never know what it was like to grow up with a grandfather, a grandmother, uncles or aunts.
Nazi flags flapped and Seig Heils offered along in Charlottesville eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany L) Image via Andy Campbell Twitter R) Nazi GermanyBecause his family were among the millions of unarmed Jewish civilians men, women, and children brutally slaughtered by the Nazis in the towns of Eastern Europe. Those swastika wearing forebearers are the inspiration to today’s hate filled Americans offering Sieg Heils on the streets of an American town.
Now 70 years later, that same little boy who would eventually grow up to be an American citizen, has had to tragically hear his own President talk about the “good people” at the torch lit Nazi parade.
Past Is Present
In some ways the past is always present in the little boy who lives within this man. With wounds too deep to ever heal, the decades old walls built to cover pain too hard to feel and block out what is too hard to remember, remain impenetrable. Along with parts of himself, the trauma lives buried, its toxic damage leaching out over 70 years, affecting generations.
I know this because, this little boy born without a home and without an extended family would one day grow up to be my all American husband.
Though not my own history the damage from his decades old tragedy becomes part of mine.
Now as I observe this man as he watches the horror of what has been unleashed in our country, I see the little boy confronted by that noxious symbol of hate once again, and the trauma that has long been buried, gets stirred up. The look is of pain but so deep he is unable to speak of it.
Today I will be his voice.
And it is loud, it is outraged, and it is frightened.
I always felt fortunate to have been born when I was.
Born a full decade after the end WWII which in a child’s mind is an eternity, the Nazi atrocities of Auschwitz and Treblinka and Belzec seemed ancient history. Storm Troopers in their black boots and their angry red flags emblazoned with swastikas became harmless villains easily beaten in movies, comics and television. America’s story of triumph of good over evil was the lessons of WWII. We had been victorious in our fight against Hitler resulting in the ultimate defeat of the ultimate evil.
How glad I was to be a Jew in America safe and immune from that kind of hate.
The unthinkable atrocities in Europe could never happen in our democracy we were told.
Kristallnacht, the Night of broken Glass, that most horrific night in November where the Nazis destroyed hundreds of synagogues, vandalized Jewish businesses, schools and hospitals, demolished buildings with sledgehammers, attacked Jews in their homes and killed hundreds in a solitary night in 1938 seemed as far removed from my own safe, postwar suburban life as I could imagine.
Of course through the years, a reviled swastika scrawled on a wall or an ugly anti-Semitic rant might rear its ugly head causing a queasy uneasy feeling to wash over me, but I could be confident that the perpetrators of this hateful act were swiftly and firmly denounced.
The European Jewish story was history, an unthinkable tragedy important to remember, but unimaginable here.
But now the unthinkable is entering American Jews thoughts.
I no longer feel protected in my own country least of all by our president with his appalling lack of leadership and empathy. The hatred, bigotry and violence in Charlottesville came from “many sides” our President insisted, but the fact is only one side was carrying swastika flags, the flag of Nazi Germany.
It is unthinkable that the President of the United States, the leader of a country that over 70 years ago sacrificed hundreds and thousands of the greatest generation to ensure the demise of that same evil, not vigorously condemn Americans who marched under the flag of the Third Reich. How can he possibly claim to represent America, its’ values and its’ citizens?
No, Mr. Trump you do not represent me.
Copyright (©) 2019 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved