The Zionist Conspiracy
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Today is Yom Hashoah, which seems an appropriate time for my first substantive post about the Holocaust. (I did post last year about the question of marking Yom Hashoah.)
Not only have I not posted about the Holocaust, I cannot remember ever reading a post on any Jblog about the Holocaust. These days, younger Jews seem preoccupied with other concerns, such as getting by in their day-to-day life, and dealing with contemporary Jewish problems, such as terror against Israelis and throughout the world, and sharp increases in anti-Semitism in Europe, especially France.
I think there is also a bit of a sense that most Americans do not want to hear about the Holocaust. More than ten years ago, a law school classmate of mine reacted with incredulity when I told him that I would not buy a German car, and that I tried to avoid anything related to Europe altogether. His response was that "it's been 50 years. It's time to forgive." As insensitive as that response was, I think it's representative of the viewpoint of many (and probably most) non-Jews.
It is also almost impossible to contemplate the enormity of the Holocaust. Next week, on Yom Hazikaron, Israel's memorial day, the approximately 21,000 soldiers and civilians who have been killed by Israel's enemies will be remembered. During the Holocaust, many more than 21,000 Jews were killed in a typical week.
The idea that six million Jews were murdered and European Jewry just about destroyed remains beyond comprehension. The only way to really contemplate the Holocaust is by focusing on each community and village that was destroyed, on each family that was wiped out, on each individual who was murdered by the Nazis.
When I think about the Holocaust, I mainly do so from the perspective of my family. I'm sure that's not unique. While my father's parents' families were ravaged by the Holocaust, I generally think of what transpired to my mother's family.
My mother's grandfather was a respected rabbi. When the Nazis invaded his village, they publicly shaved off his beard, brought him up to a roof and shot him dead.
Later, fleeing Belgium for France were my mother's grandmother and her four children - their age ranged from their 20's to low 30's - including my mother's mother (along with her husband, my mother's father), her aunt and uncle and their son, and an unmarried aunt and uncle. Both my mother's unmarried uncle and unmarried aunt were killed in an air raid in which my mother's mother was wounded. I am named after my mother's uncle, whose legs were blown off by the bombardment and asked his mother for water during his final moments.
Later, in 1943, the surviving members of my mother's family were forced to flee France for Italy. By then, my mother's mother was pregnant with her first child, and a Catholic priest arranged for refuge for the family in villages around Cuneo, Italy. The men were with the partisans fighting the Nazis and fascists, with the women and children hidden elsewhere.
My mother was born in late February 1944. Six weeks later, on the seventh night of Passover, her father came down from the mountains where he hid with the partisans to visit her. He didn't make it. Instead, he was spotted and shot in the head and murdered. He was around 30 years old.
By the 1950's, the surviving members of my mother's family had moved to Manhattan. One day, a woman called a Jewish radio program asking for information about my mother's father, leaving her contact information. It turns out that she was his sister, the sole survivor from my mother's father's family. Everyone else - their parents and all of the other siblings and their children - and even uncles, aunts and cousins - were all murdered. A few years ago, upon launch of the Yad Yashem website, my mother learned who was killed in Treblinka, who in Auschwitz.
My mother remains a bit of a celebrity in Cuneo, Italy, where the baby born in hiding during World War II was for decades a legend. In the summer of 2001, my parents decided to visit Cuneo. Along with my siblings, they went to the home in which my mother was born - the midwife still alive and obviously now elderly. The visit was covered in the local newspaper.
When my parents informed us of the plan for the trip to Cuneo, the rest of my family reacted by looking forward to the visit. I reacted by buying a plane ticket to Israel and declaring that I would not be joining them in Cuneo, or otherwise visiting Europe. Nearly five years later, I'm not sure if my decision was right or wrong, motivated by stubbornness or by principle. I did have a nice time in Israel, which had no tourism due to the terror war that had been commenced by Yasser Arafat the prior year.
Each year on Purim, most of my mother's extended family joins in my parents' home. There is some irony in that, as both my father's father and my mother's mother died on Purim, so both my parents have yahrtzeit on that happy day in the Jewish year. My mother's aunt and uncle used to be a fixture at the Purim gatherings, but her aunt died in late 1992, while her uncle died four days before Purim in 2003. Now, most of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren come over.
Even with lots of children, everyone fits rather comfortably in my parents' home, which is on the first floor of a two-family house, a sobering reminder of those who were murdered and the generations of families that do not exist because of the Holocaust.