As a child I always remember my parents speaking of what took place in Holland during the Nazi occupation. The term ‘Holocaust’ was rarely if ever used. Instead they would generally speak of it in terms of “40-45”, representing the years 1940 until 1945 when Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands.
I always knew I had lost family, specifically the parents and younger sister of my father and the father and younger brother of my mother. It was not until I was a bit older that the scope was understood to me, very possibly due to my parents shielding me from the reality at my young age.
I always knew of the greatness of the Lubertus and Geeske te Kiefte. The people known to me from as far back as I can remember as Oom (Uncle) Bertus and Tante (Aunt) Geesje were the people who shielded my parents, specifically my mother, and gave her a welcome home at the risk of certain torture and death. They would always remain to me as family, as would their children and grandchildren.
I always knew it was Germany. What history was then and what it became was something I did not begin to comprehend until my teen years. My first understanding of the contrast that existed was my awareness that Willie Brandt, who was German Chancellor from 1969-1974 was a “good German” who had not been part of the Nazi party. As an ignorant child it was all just numbers and random information to me. Of course it was sad. I never had the experience of knowing my grandparents and knew that the world my parents were born into had been destroyed. But the true scope was something that was next to impossible for a child to grasp. Then I grew up and realized it had very little to do with age.
Soon after I finished writing the book “Jew Face” I was thinking about all that had taken place and my perception of the events of 40-45. As a New Yorker, I know what it means to live in a city with a strong Jewish influence, not unlike Amsterdam prior to 1940. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine most of my family gone and 75% of the Jews of New York wiped out. After 10 seconds I opened my eyes because it was too painful to continue. I had the option of opening my eyes and making it no longer a reality. This is what makes Holocaust survivors such as my mother and late father and so many others the tremendous heroes that they are. The very ability to go on with life in the face of such awful memories without the option of opening their eyes and making it go away. It never did go away, yet they continued to live with the pain, often turning it into new worlds filled with joy and happiness. We owe a debt of gratitude to all these heroes that we can best repay by always remembering and fighting to make sure it never happens again. May God bless them all forever.