Sunday, April 27, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah)

I don’t know why, but when I was in junior high school I became enthralled with books about the Holocaust.  I read every fictional account of the Holocaust that our school library had. Of course I read Anne Frank's diary, but I read literally dozens of other books as well.  I was so moved by the stories that I read.  I remember crying more than once.  I was in complete awe of the Holocaust survivors, who faced such brutality and horror every day and yet lived to tell their stories. 

As an adult I still read quite a few Holocaust survivor memoires.  Recently I read Gerta Weissman Klein’s personal account of living through the Holocaust.  It was compelling and moving, I still cannot fathom how this great tragedy was allowed to happen. 

When I was younger I gave very little thought to being Jewish.  My Mom’s family was Jewish, but since she didn’t really practice any religion – it was simply part of our heritage; I didn’t feel a strong connection to Judaism.   I ate Matzah, we watched Fiddler on the Roof, and I even went to a Jewish deli a few times, but I didn’t know much about the Sabbath or Yom Kippur or any of the Jewish holidays and traditions. 

My mother looked very Jewish, although when I was younger I didn’t realize that, to me she just looked like my Mom.  I remember having a conversation with her when I was in junior high and reading all those books.  I had just read a very moving book “Alan and Naomi” about a little Jewish girl who came to New York after the holocaust and she befriended a little boy named Alan.  I remember being very upset by this book because Naomi kept getting picked on for being Jewish – even though she wasn’t in Germany, she was here in the United States.  I was telling my Mom about the story and she shared with me how she was often picked on when she was a little girl.  I was so shocked by that.  She described people calling her names and yelling “get away little Jew girl” and other equally degrading comments.  I had never faced any kind of discrimination, so I was blown away by her admission of this.  I was also angry, extremely angry that someone would do this to my mom or anyone I loved. 

I am half Jewish and half Irish, so no one who meets me would assume I am Jewish.  I have had many people make stupid, thoughtless and hurtful comments to me or in front of me over the years.  People have used the phrase “jewed him down” or equally hurtful statements.  I often struggle to decide if I should confront someone when they say something racist like that.  Many times I do tell them that I am Jewish and what they said is insulting, and most often they respond with an apology, but I hate that they said it in the first place. 

As Holocaust Remembrance Day draws near, I think about the fact that my Great Grandmother emigrated here in the early 1900’s.  She and her cousin came from a small village outside of Warsaw, which was actually considered part of Russia at the time, because Poland did not become a separate country until after WWI.  She spoke only Yiddish, she didn't have any papers, and I can't help but wonder if she came here to get away from persecution of Jews by the Russian people at that time (watch Fiddler on the Roof to learn more about the pogroms).   If she had stayed in her village, she would have been one of the Jews that was persecuted by the Nazi’s.  I am sure many of her extended family were arrested or killed during the war.  I don’t know which village she came from, but I can’t help think it was a pretty little place not far from some of the worst places in man kind’s history.   

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) 2014 begins in the evening of Sunday, April 27 and ends in the evening of Monday, April 28.  I will take some time this year to think about my Great Grandmother & her family.  I will remember what happened in Germany 70 years ago, and I will hope and pray that nothing like that ever happens again. 

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