In February 1941, between 300-500 Jewish men of sound mind and body were rounded up in Amsterdam by the Nazi occupying forces. Every single one of them was deported out of the city, most of them to the Mauthausen concentration camp. The majority of those were either shot, pushed of a rock quarry at the top of the “stairs of death”, or literally worked to death. This event symbolized the beginning of the Holocaust in the Netherlands. While one of these men was my mother’s favorite cousin, David van Hasselt, even if there wasn’t this personal element attached to the story, I would still be enormously offended by your comments.
If there was any accuracy to your comments, which there is not, finding it necessary to insist that the Holocaust wasn’t motivated by race is like saying that slavery was really only about getting cheap help. It whitewashes the murder of 6 million Jews, diminishes the pain and suffering of those that experienced it and the burden of responsibility and vicarious anguish felt by future generations.
In September of 1919, 14 years before Adolf Hitler came into power, he categorized the Jews as a race, not as a religious community. He described the Jewish presence as a “race-tuberculosis of the peoples “, and said that “the ultimate goal must be the removal of the Jews altogether “.
In 1923, 10 years before seizing power, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord”.
While Hitler did have a disdain for the mentally and physically deficient, he also hated Homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, and any race not seen as Aryan. This is why Jesse Owens’ victories in the 1933 Munich Olympics made him such a hero, something I would have commended you for taking time to recognize, as he showed his superiority in his athletic prowess right in front of Hitler’s face.
What this all comes back to is that your comments are not only incredibly and continuously insensitive, their inaccuracies are dangerous. The reason why myself and so many others find the need to make telling this story our life’s work, is because as soon as it’s forgotten, or distorted as you are doing, the danger of history repeating or even somewhat duplicating itself becomes significantly greater.
And finally Whoopi, despite the fact that your comments put your mental stability in question, because of the last name you go by, Goldberg, the Nazis would have come for you before seeing the color of your skin. A fact you would be wise to acknowledge.
While the comments you made yesterday addressing the controversy regarding your promotion of the movie “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America”,were certainly an improvement from comments previously made or conspicuously not made, “accepting responsibility” as you cleverly stated, is not enough. As a proud Jew and son of Holocaust survivors, I demand to hear the following words out of your mouth. “I apologize”, or “I am sorry for the words that I said and the pain that I caused.”
You see, anyone who has followed you over the years knows that you think you are smarter than everyone else. As it happens though Kyrie, the world is not flat, and Jews are not the devil. So, you are clearly not as smart as you think you are. I would guess that no one is as smart as you think that you are. That being said, because of your arrogance, it is striking to me that in your statement, you never mention anti-Semitism, and you never apologize to the Jewish people. Saying you take responsibility, in Kyrie speak, is a clever way of addressing it, without saying you did anything wrong.
Just in case you do believe you did nothing wrong, let me make it clear to you. As Rich Eisen beautifully stated after you accused Nick Friedell of dehumanizing you for of all things holding you accountable for your actions, your behavior dehumanizes us as Jews. And frankly I can’t help but think that somewhere in your thought process you felt that not apologizing to Jewish people and not mentioning anti-Semitism specifically, kept you in good stead with the likes of Kanye West and Louis Farrakhan.
Tell me I am wrong Kyrie. Let me hear you say you are sorry. Then, and only then will your words mean anything to me. In the meantime, if you don’t care for Jews, you might consider getting the hell out of Brooklyn.
I could start by saying that I have no personal stake in the success of this movie, but that would not be entirely true. You see Mr. Zuckerberg, not only do I have a stake in it, you do as well. I do not know you, so I do not claim to know how you feel about your connection to the past, but I do know you are a Jewish man who has never hidden from that fact. It must be understood that the survival of the Jewish people will always be connected to acknowledging and remembering our persecution. So I ask you, does the future of the Jewish people mean anything to you? Or are the policies of Facebook so out of touch with reality and are you so detached from the operations of this giant you created that we are subjected to this ignorant and highly detrimental stance?
My personal issues towards this matter can be best explained by telling you a little bit about my background. I am the son of Holocaust survivors, and the importance of this and how it relates to me personally is not by any means exaggerated. When I see Facebook banishing a movie with the title “Beautiful Blue Eyes” because as the ruling states, it violates the policy against content that “includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race,” knowing a little what the movie is about, I am in utter shock and disbelief. The title of the story is based on someone who is part of the story, someone with blue eyes, who was murdered by the Nazis. As someone whose father had eyes the color of a blue ocean, knowing that both his parents and younger sister were also murdered by the Nazis, it’s hard to imagine one of the 3, if not all of them, not having blue eyes. And had my father not been blessed to survive, his blue eyes would not have stopped the Nazis from murdering him as well.
But the stronger message here may come from relating to the story of my mother and her side of the family. Whether Facebook chooses to acknowledge this or not, the Nazis often identified their victims, particularly their Jewish victims, from their physical appearance. This was as evident in the Netherlands as anywhere else. My mother, born in Amsterdam and of Sephardic Jewish descent, looked different than most Dutch people at that time. My father, who had red hair and blue eyes, could, for all intents and purposes, hide in plain sight. My mother, with dark hair, brown eyes, and a darker complexion, immediately was recognized as being Jewish. It was only through the help of my father who worked with the resistance, and the hand of God, that my mother survived. But sadly, her father and brother, with similar physical attributes were taken to Auschwitz and murdered. The importance of my mother’s appearance was so significant and so important in understanding what took place that I even named the book in which I chronicle their 5 years in Holland during the Nazi Occupation, as “Jew Face”. https://hollandsheroes.com/general-book-information/ And just like “Beautiful Blue Eyes”, the title was based partly on a character in the book, my mother, and partly on an incident that took place.
As someone who is proud to be Jewish and forever cognizant of the past, present, and likely future threats we will always face, my reasoning for calling the book “Jew Face” was clearly not a racist or bigoted attack on, of all people, my fellow Jews. Maybe the point can best be made clear to you and anyone who may choose to bury their head in the sands of Woke Beach, by sharing the following anecdote.
After the publishing of my book, close to 5 years after my father’s passing, my mother would occasionally speak to various institutions about her experiences during those horrific times. She would often use the book as a guide in telling the story, and when on one occasion she informed the audience of its title, “Jew Face”, a woman commented to her that, “this is an ugly title for a book”. My mother’s immediate and instinctive response was, “it was an ugly time”. Maybe this is what you and the people who work for you are not comprehending. Sometimes to make a point, a point that can ultimately promote love and understanding and even save lives, you need to say and do harsh things. To avoid this in the name of equality or standards is at best shortsighted and divisive, at worst it is out and out dangerous. In fact, this application that states it violates the policy against content that “includes direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s race,” is so out of touch with the reality, it is closer to Holocaust denial than it is to enforcement of a ruling in the name of the common good.
I urge you to look at this situation with a broader and more educated perspective and realize that decisions such as these are counterproductive to what you claim to be important.
I refer to this as ONE of the best Mother’s Days my mother ever had because I am certain each of my siblings orchestrated equally special days honoring our late mom. The Mother’s Day I speak of was the one in which New York City, specifically Brooklyn took front and center in giving her a day she spoke of till her dying day.
I honestly don’t know what year it was other than to know, by mere mathematics alone and the fact that it was after my married days, the fact that my father was still alive and where I lived at certain times in my life, that it was between 14 and 18 years ago. My parents came to visit me and would spend this mother’s day with me in my apartment in Forest Hill, Queens. I asked my mom if she would allow me to take control of the day’s itinerary, and since she was just happy to be spending the day with her favorite child (kidding guys), she happily agreed. I decided to make the theme one in which I would show my parents, specifically on this Mother’s Day, my mom, proof that Hitler didn’t win. In what better place to do that than Brooklyn?
I’ve avoided openly criticizing the Orthodox communities of New York for some unfortunate displays during the COVID-19 crisis. While the public gatherings that took place, specifically for funerals was irresponsible and wrong on many levels, including Jewish law, I didn’t join the mob in excoriating them. Other than mentioning it in this piece, something I do because of the relevance to the points I’ll be making, I’ve stayed away from public criticism for their actions. The reason is a very simple one. While it is unlikely I will ever choose to live like them and often think very differently than they do, in some ways I and every other Jew on this planet owe them a sense of gratitude and respect for their undying devotion. A devotion very much part of why the Jewish world has survived for centuries. So on this Mother’s Day, in an effort to offer some evidence to the fact that Hitler was not successful in his quest to wipe us out, I began the tour of what is really only parts of Jewish Brooklyn.
The first stop on our trip was Williamsburg. Williamsburg is the center of Satmar Chasidism. The Satmar’s are widely known as being an insulated Ultra Orthodox community and one known for being close minded to the ways of the modern world. Travelling through the Jewish sections you primarily see Chasidic Jews, Jewish shops, schools and places of worship. If you are a very modern Jew or person of any other faith, or someone who does not believe in any religion at all, you likely will not relate at all to how the people of this community live. That’s fine. I neither was on that day nor am I today trying to sell their way of life. However, as a Jew, specifically one born to survivors of the Holocaust, I remember driving through there thinking, welcome to Hitler’s worst nightmare.
We then traveled to Flatbush. Flatbush was interesting for me personally because at that time I worked for a company in Brooklyn where quite a few of the employees, including my boss at that time, lived in Flatbush. I had willingly spent some time there over the years, more often than not thoroughly enjoying myself. In Flatbush what you were able to witness was a very significant presence of Orthodox Jews, many of which clearly lived in nice homes. You once again saw a thriving Jewish community, this one where the community primarily had a higher standard of living than what you saw in Williamsburg, while being one more very clear example of Jewish life and survival.
Our final stop was Borough Park. While being more diverse than Williamsburg, it has more of a ghetto feeling to it than Flatbush. Part of Borough Park’s diversity is within the Orhodox Jewish community, one that is rich with both the Chasidic contingents and the Haredi ones. I am no expert on Borough Park, but for me there is one street that represents it above all others. That street is 13th Avenue. This is a street filled with shops, many of them highly affordable, large crowds of people walking up and down either browsing or shopping. Somewhere in one of these shops I brought my mother a Star of David necklace that she was to enjoy often in the coming years and always helped her remember that day. This was also somewhere rich with places to eat, of which a significant percentage are Kosher. By this time my brother Marcel had arrived from Philadelphia to join us in what was to be remembered as a delicious dinner in a Kosher Chinese restaurant somewhere along 13th Avenue.
This was a good day. Mostly for the joy it brought my mother. Hearing her refer to it as one of the best Mother’s Days she ever had is something I will always remember happily. As I think of her today, while I miss her, I am grateful that she doesn’t have to witness what’s happening today. While I am not comparing what we are going through today to what she and so many others went through during Nazi-occupation, I am grateful she did not have to spend one more day of her life living in isolation and risk.
I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, specifically to those I know and love. Enjoy your day, enjoy your kids and families, and stay healthy and safe.
As I write this, Passover has already begun for my friends and family in Europe and Israel. For those of us in the Americas, as we prepare to start the holiday and for the majority who will have a Seder like never before, I want to offer the following message of hope and encouragement.
In my years of celebrating the holiday, even when I was most focused, I admittedly would remember the past, acknowledge the present, and talk about the future. But this year the biggest difference for me is that we look at everything through a different lens.
As we look to the past, we will recount the story of the Jewish people being slaves in Egypt and the suffering of the Jewish people throughout the ages, most notably for so many of us, the suffering of the Holocaust. As human nature is prone to cause us to do, this year we find more parallels between our lives and the past suffering as ever before. That doesn’t automatically mean we are correct in drawing that parallel, but to many the death and illness, coupled with the fact that we need to stay home to avoid a plague of sorts, is enough for many to see it in that light.
Our present, which is indeed connected to the past perspective, is given more focused attention than it usually is on any given Passover. Usually Passover is a break or pause from how we conduct our every day lives, be it through changing the dietary laws, altering our work schedule, or spending time with more friends and family. This year however, it is merely a break of a few hours over the course of a matter of a few days, as so many will be conducting their lives when the holiday is over in a very similar way to how they will conduct it over Passover. At home and, at least for the time being, adjusting to a very different normal.
However, it is my belief that the biggest difference comes in how we see the future. Not just in practical terms but for those of us who are so inclined, in religious or spiritual terms. For the majority of us, talking about how this year we are slaves and next year will be free, was an important yet disconnected part of our Seder in past years. Maybe our lives haven’t always been everything we wanted, having never truly questioned our freedom, but we have never been more appreciative of that freedom as we are today. We look at our restrictions today and wonder if they will increase or diminish. We question if the future holds more significant amounts of pain and suffering than we’ve already experienced. And we question whether or not the world will become a place for all of humanity to exist in peace, freedom and love.
The answer is a simple yet complex one. We just do not know what the future holds. But to paraphrase my father of blessed memory, we are better off not knowing the future, because inevitably we learn things we rather not know. Here is what we do know. If we have the physical or mental capacity to do so, we can make our world better not just for ourselves but for those around us. Acts of kindness, patience and understanding are more than just catch phrases. They help to form that future we so dearly will look to at our Seders. But as long as we can do something to make a difference, even in one person’s life, then we always can be hopeful for a better future.
I am a simple man. Some might say to a fault. I believe that to its core, life is not that complicated. If you are blessed to do so, you get up each day and do your best to make the most of the waking hours ahead of you. You do some things right and some things wrong. You get some of the things you want to get and fail to get others. You feel joy and pain. You are healthy or sick. There is a word to describe what this makes every single one of us. The word is human. I also feel that whatever it is you believe in is so personal that to judge others for contrary beliefs is only justified if those other beliefs are designed to, or clearly will cause harm to others. So when I say that at the core of everything I believe is a belief that there is an all powerful God, I quickly and I feel fairly add that if someone reading this does not share that belief, I do not feel I am better than they are as a result. That being said, I will continue to share my thoughts with that very clear and certain belief, dare I say knowledge that there is indeed a God that watches over us and causes events to occur.
I’ve heard the rebuttals. What kind of God is it that causes suffering? Anyone who thinks that is a question I haven’t considered is clearly unaware of the information and history that was in the forefront of my life from as early as I can remember. Being the son of Holocaust survivors I was taught to have not only an understanding of the overall horrors of what took place, but a personal account of what it was like to be alive, scared and devastated by personal loss as a result of what took place. So again I understand that you may ask, what kind of God does that? Maybe the answer lies in the message being sent to the human race.
One of the first things a true belief in God should do is teach humility. As certain as you may be that you do, you do not have all the answers. You may be a leader in your community, am expert in your field, the most educated person among your piers, or the strongest person physically, mentally or spiritually anyone ever has ever had the pleasure with which to interact. Any of these qualities or statuses are wonderful achievements and they are to be appreciated and respected. That being said, to try to understand God on a human level, to think however great your achievements are you can know what God is doing and why, may very well indicate a basic misunderstanding of what or who God is. So we theorize. Mostly everyone feels it is acceptable to do that, but to apply our personal or the current world’s standards to God’s purpose and actions is not only futile, it is often dangerous.
With all this in mind, I still sit down and write this with the basic belief that with what is happening in the world today, God is sending a strong message. I feel this way for a number of reasons, but the one reason that is most prevalent is that in my lifetime I have never seen the powerful more powerless than I do today. There are scientists working on a cure and governments taking actions to slow down the spread of the disease, but when you listen carefully to what experts and politicians are saying, it sounds a lot like a glorified version of throwing things against the wall and hoping something sticks. All of that would be quite terrifying unless you go back to that core belief that God has a purpose and reason for all that is done.
Do I know that what I am opining here is the truth? Of course I don’t. I am neither deluded or that conceited to think my answer is absolutely the correct one. However, I do feel strongly about what I am about to share with you. First of all, the one thing I feel that making the powerful powerless should teach them all, is that as much as high or lofty a level as they have achieved in the world, they are not the ultimate power in the universe. If they were to truly comprehend and feel that I believe they would be better leaders. Let’s wait and see, but not hold our breaths and find out if that is a positive result that comes from the current crisis.
The second thing is the message I feel this is sending to mankind, and it not only goes back to that simplicity I referred to in the beginning of this piece, it also does not require you to believe in anything other than humanity. The message as I see it is as follows. Do your true best to be decent to living creatures, treat your home and planet with respect, and most of all, be nice to your fellow human being. We will all make mistakes. We will offend people we care for, we will be selfish when we should have been selfless, and we might put our personal ambitions ahead of what is the right thing to do. But the God I believe in knows when our intentions are pure. When we wish well on others, find more sadness than joy in the pain of others and truly care for our fellow human being.
There are many who say that a good mental state of a cancer patient helps to advance their health in a positive direction. It’s far fetched and out there to say a world in which we show more care and affection for each other will help to cure the virus, but no can dispute the fact that it certainly won’t hurt the situation. None of us will get it completely right, but if we all try we might just be getting the message, and maybe once we do things will begin to get a lot better.
I decided that before I begin sharing with you my feelings on your stance towards Israel I would first research your comments condemning the attacks by Palestinian terrorists on the civilian Jewish population. So, in fairness, to begin I will post those condemnations before I proceed with what I would like to say.
Now that I have finished with that I will continue. No, I did not forget to cut and paste anything in this letter and I skipped a line on purpose to bring attention to the blank space. The truth is that I was unable to find any time in which you condemned acts of terrorism against the Jewish population of the State of Israel. Of course it is easy to find times in which you condemn Israel. Everyone is very aware of that, however in order for you to be an honest broker, would it not be required to address the issue from an objective standpoint rather from the vacuous self-serving pandering place from which you wish to start?
Mr. Sanders, I have no problem with people criticizing Israel or its governments policies. A large portion of the Israeli population does the same. The difference is that the larger percentage of these people, besides having to live with the consequences of their opinions, also have served in the Israeli military. The vast majority of these people do not have to answer to anyone for their motivation. You however, seeing as you believe yourself worthy of the presidency of these United States can indeed be questioned as to your motivation for all of your political viewpoints. To me your motivation regarding Israel is clear. You see it as far more politically expedient to attack Israel than support her. When do you stand with any representatives of the State of Israel? Even those opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. I see you standing proudly and with joy next to those who openly hate Israel. To people like Linda Sarsour, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, people who at best laugh off blatant anti-Semitism, at worst contribute to it and perpetuate it.
I will not listen to the argument from you about how you can be against the State of Israel and still care about the fate of the Jewish people when you have done nothing to show yourself as an honest broker. Where are your efforts to help the people you claim more and more to be part of as you get closer and closer to primaries in states with a larger Jewish population? And in case you claim to not know why Israel is connected to the fate of Israel, something I believe you do know but conveniently ignore, allow me to enlighten you.
The Jewish people have been victims of persecution throughout time, culminating into what was the most systematic and organized mass murder of one segment of the population the world has ever seen. Out of the ashes of the Holocaust the modern State of Israel was born. It was not created as a business venture or for political gain. It was created as a safe haven for the Jewish people. History shows us that the very survival of the Jewish people, YOUR people, may very well depend on having a Jewish state ready and able to protect and shelter us. So while criticizing its government is a democratic process permitted and accepted in what you refer to as a racist government, supporting people, as you do, who attempt to grow organizations determined to bring Israel to her knees and destroy it is totally unacceptable. To say in a New York Times interview 4 years ago that Israel killed 10,000 people in Gaza when that was way more than the terrorist group Hamas fraudelently claimed were killed is unacceptable. To argue on behalf of the dignity the Palestinians while keeping quiet when it comes to the survival of Jews is unacceptable.
When asked recently what it means to you be to Jewish you responded as follows.
“I can remember very vividly, as a kid, looking at picture books about what happened in the Holocaust. As it happens, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler.”
To this I say to you the following words. How dare you? As a son of Holocaust survivors I see the most poignant words in your answer as being “As it happens”. As though it’s a side point. Forget being Jewish for a minute, something I imagine should be easy for you, your response shows a disrespect for your father and his ancestry. As it happens? Did you only just find this out because you felt it would help your campaign? Or is it, as it happens, on a side note, my father’s family was wiped out by Hitler. Or, and this is how I see it, you felt that by making it too big of a deal you wouldn’t properly pander to a base you see critical to your political ambitions. If I were to invoke the Holocaust as the one thing I see as what it means to be Jewish, let me tell you how I would answer. “Having learned about the Holocaust from a young age, having never had a grandparent because of it and knowing that 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, I will never sit quietly when people threaten my people again, and I will do my best to be the kind of person who will stand up to any groups that look to persecute and wipe out any group of people.” That is what I would say Mr. Sanders. It wouldn’t be a soundbite that sounds so disingenuous that I have to fight the urge to question if it is even true.
As a Jewish American I will conclude by saying that as long as you continue to behave in a way I believe to be the ways of a traitor to his own people, you will not only not get my vote, you will get my active opposition. You see Mr. Sanders, if you can’t show an ounce of loyalty to your own people, background and heritage, why would I ever consider someone like you, someone I see as a disgrace, to be a leader in the country I proudly call home.
Being very flawed myself, I make every effort to avoid ever sitting in judgment of others for behaviors that can be considered nothing short of human. Human behavior allows people to make choices not everyone else will agree with as well as permitting people to do that one thing we all do. Make mistakes. So since I try my best not to be a hypocrite or cross the line, I am not going to spend any of my time criticizing my fellow Jews that make the choice not to live in accordance with Jewish law. Having come pretty close to making that choice at certain points of my life, I get it. I also believe these choices to be between man and God only. The issue I want to address is pride in being Jewish. Or lack thereof.
I am not afraid to call someone out if I feel there is blatant self-hatred, but since this post is directed more to the many in that grey area I realize it is important to be careful about stepping over a line. If I am to address a subject that goes after people for something as reprehensible as being ashamed of who you are, I need to speak in generalities. After all, I may have an opinion, even one shared by many, but even so I do not know what is in someone’s heart. Let’s just say that if what I am to say applies at all to you, or wakes you up to a different perspective, then maybe I’ve done something right.
It should not be a surprise that much of this discussion comes back to the Holocaust. Specifically in regard to the main issues I wish to address. The first being support for the State of Israel. Support does not mean blind agreement in all policies and actions of whatever government is in place. There are many people who have done more for Israel than I may ever have the opportunity to do that are much more opposed to the decisions made by the Israeli government than I am. This is not about stifling opinions. This is however about being balanced and fair as well as addressing the disingenuous motives of the BDS movement.
Fair and balanced means if you are to criticize Israel for its actions, you don’t fail to mention the years of dealing with a Palestinian Authority showing no indication of being a willing partner in peace. It means if you are going to go after Benjamin Netanyahu for a hard line approach you also recognize that he is not only dealing with officials that reward terrorists financially for killing innocent Jewish residents of Israel but in many cases officials who once lead or performed acts of terrorism themselves. And it means that when you criticize Israel for collateral damage that leads to the death of innocents that it happens when targeting enemies not looking for peace but preaching the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel. So yes, criticize Israel if you feel it is appropriate, but realize that if you do so in a vacuum that ignores the actions of the other side that you are not only wrong for doing so, you are part of the problem.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, aka BDS, had proven time and time again that it is not about helping Palestinians, it is about ridding the land of Israel of Jewish people. It is a movement designed to cripple Israel economically regardless of who it hurts, Jews or Palestinians. If an organization is to claim that its purpose is to advance the cause of a people, what does it tell you when it causes the closing down of factories employing the very people it claims to be helping. But don’t take my word for it. Just look at the name of the organization. It is all about hurting the Israeli government with no mention about helping the Palestinian people. Partially because the people running the organization work hand in hand with the leadership that has for decades pocketed and misappropriated funding desired to help Palestinians and use hatred against Jews as a means of motivating the masses, much like Hitler and the Nazi Party did in Germany. So if you are Jewish and support the BDS movement you need to know that the goal of the organization is to destroy a country created to keep you safe. A country born from the ashes of 6 million murdered Jews. Which leads me to my final and most important point.
You can find Jewish practice antiquated, pointless or even wrong, but make no mistake. You can’t hide from who you are. You might try, but history shows us that our enemies don’t care how you feel about being Jewish, they care that you are and want you gone. And with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year approaching I would be remiss if I didn’t ask this question. Why would you want to hide from it? The Jewish people have major global impacts on education, science, medicine and pop culture. And for those of is who believe in it from a religious perspective, it has given us the Torah, a moral compass of how to live a good and productive life, regardless of how precisely or traditionally one chooses to interpret it.
Finally I want to wish all my fellow Jews a happy and healthy year ahead. Whether or not you believe or not, and even whether or not you accept who you are or not, I wish you blessings in the coming year. I may not like how you think and I will call you out, but that very thing you want no part of is the very thing that teaches me to wish good upon you. And when all is said and done, only you know what is truly in your heart.
Not too long ago, a millennial of Asian descent asked me what it was like to be raised by Holocaust survivors. The importance of indicating his background is to highlight the difference of his life from the life he was asking me about. Although I think human beings are inherently the same when you break through all the superfluous crap, I recognize the impact environment and circumstance has on molding an individual. So the question made me think about this topic more deeply than I had in quite some time, and in light of the events that have taken place in my life over the past 6 months I decided to share, in the hope that I help address issues of concern not just to people that fall into the same category that I do, but for people looking for answers about who they are and where they are going.
Since I am very aware that we live in a world where people often find sport in attacking the words that others share, let me make a few things very clear before you read on. The information you are hopefully going to go on to read is not based on historically verified facts or scientific studies. This is based entirely on my personal feelings and interpretations. If your reaction is, “why should I care how he feels?”, that is fine with me. Just like that same person can’t tell me I am right or wrong for how I feel, I can’t tell that same person what to care about. But hopefully it is understood that at least part of my motivation is to help people that struggle with feelings they do not understand or even worse, understand but can’t deal with.
My initial response to the question was probably the most honest response I had ever given to any question regarding my parents and what it was like to be raised by people who lived through Nazi-occupation. I called it 2 sides of the same coin. On one side I recognized that there is an inevitable dysfunction to being raised by people who went through what my parents went through. On the other side of the coin, even before without addressing the special qualities my parents exhibited in their lifetime, being raised by Holocaust survivors almost forces you into seeing things that are more important than what is relatively superficial nonsense.
Coming out of the ashes of the war in 1945, it needs to be understood that not all Holocaust survivors had the same or even similar experience. There seems to be a universal understanding among all decent people, whether they have a direct connection to Holocaust survivors or not, that degree of suffering is not a contest. No one ever says to a Holocaust survivor that was not in a concentration camp that they were lucky in comparison to someone who survived the camps. And while it is clear that had my father not helped my mother find places of refuge and do so much to keep her from being captured by the Nazis that she would have likely suffered horrors unimaginable likely followed by death, who is anyone to measure the devastation of seeing your world be decimated and the feelings associated with running for or fearing for your life for close to 5 years? And who can understand seeing everything you know and believe in be wiped out as though it was a disease? As soon as I was old enough to understand with some maturity what my parents went through, my value system was impacted by how I interpreted their life experiences.
I never felt guilt. I was not made to feel that way. Mostly because for as long as I can remember it was made very clear to me who the guilty parties were. Nazi and Nazi collaborators were the mass murderers that murdered my ancestors, and living my life in a good and happy way would be more of a slap in the face to their efforts than it would be a disregard for what the Jewish people suffered through in my parents’ native Holland and the rest of Europe. I have however always felt a responsibility. It would probably take extensive therapy for me to understand to what extent I try to do good things and to what extents I follow Judaism based on the responsibility I feel, but I am honest enough to admit that it is certainly part of the equation. I know that although in today’s very partisan political climate we can debate what is anti-Jewish sentiment or action, I do know that I have zero tolerance for those things I consider to fall into those categories. This is about how I feel when I recognize that taking place in society or my environment. I know that nothing feels more important to me than the survival of the Jewish people, but I also know I reconcile ethically by having the same intolerance for attacks on the survival of others, again, when I see it as taking place. This same factor explains why Israel is important to me. Israel not only represents a safe haven for the Jewish people escaping persecution, but it also highlights the thoughts and ideas of those who have a disdain for the Jewish people. That is not to say that any opposition to the positions of the Israeli government is anti-Jewish, but it does alert any honest individual to the fact that being anti-Israel is more often than not a code word for anti-Semitism.
So all of these viewpoints and philosophies are at least somewhat a result of being raised by Holocaust survivors. But it would be hard to refute the idea that some of my flaws are not a result of that as well. To know that for sure would be to know what degree of the imperfections of my parents were passed on to me are a result of their experience during the war was passed on to me. I maintain that it may be close to impossible to identify that with any accuracy and I loved and respect my parents and their memory too much to pick apart whatever flaws they may have had, but I will offer up one fear I believe I inherited from my upbringing. A fear, that to be brutally honest is very likely a contributing factor behind the time I have put into writing this piece and much of the other things I write. It is the fear of not making a difference. For my grandparents, my father’s parents who refused baptismal papers because they would only die the way they were born, as Jews, for my ancestors who were killed in the concentration camps, for the 6 million, and for my parents who felt the pain of that time until the day they died, I feel that I have a responsibility to do something that matters. There is a fine line however between feeling a sense of responsibility and feeling a burden, and although I was not made to feel guilt, whenever that sense of responsibility has felt like a burden, a feeling of guilt sets in, because I know, that my “burden” is nothing compared to those that suffered during that time. Nevertheless, it is a reality that sits with me and one I need to address from time to time.
I do leave you with two very important points. First one being that one of the reasons I am writing this piece is to hopefully help any other children of Holocaust survivors with unresolved feelings they may have difficulty dealing with, and the second one is to accentuate the most important factor in this entire discussion. The Holocaust was a reality. The enormity of it was so significant that it not only resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews but it still impacts the world and generations in so many ways. The specifics being a discussion for another time. Reality, good or bad, does not disappear just because you want it to. It does not disappear because of perverse and distorted ideologies. It needs to be confronted, something I will continue to do that for as long as I am able. Sometimes it is my burden, but I am thankful to God for the fact that usually it is my responsibility. One I accept without issue.
In recent years there has been a growing and concerning trend in regard to a word as familiar globally as any other word. That word is Nazi. The trend I speak of is in the use of the word in a descriptive, subjective form, as opposed to the literally specific form necessary to keep an understanding of the evil it represents.
A number of people who knew that I intended to write this piece have actually thanked me for doing so. Any attempt to try to change the thought pattern of an anti-Semite or other form of bigot that uses Holocaust denial as a means of forwarding a perverse agenda is a waste of time. A more worthwhile venture is to make sure those who have open minds and pure hearts are afforded the opportunity to know the truth. The truth is that improper use of the word Nazi dilutes the horrors of what took place under the Nazi-occupation in Europe.
This post is neither a political statement nor an apology for those that misuse power. This is more of a perspective check. Calling someone a Nazi because they do something damaging to other individuals, or even worse calling them one because it is your perception they are doing so, detracts from some critical facts.
Adolf Hitler’s Nazi war machine sought out and killed in staggering numbers. According to jewishvirtualibrary.org the numbers break down as follows.
Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials: at least 70,000
German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory: undetermined
Homosexuals: hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above).
As a son of Dutch Jewish Holocaust survivors, the Jewish number hits very close to home, as it does or has done for many others I have known or still know over the course of my lifetime. The Nazis destroyed entire worlds. They wiped out an entire Jewish civilization in a large percentage of Europe. They tortured, they raped, they conducted experiments, made people dig graves before shooting them in cold blood, and put together one of the most efficiently cruel means of mass murder by gassing to death multitudes of people. Frankly, although these facts are accurate, this does not capture the true horror of what took place. For that one needs to research the numerous pictures and accounts of the events that took place.
And yet many people today refer to anyone with ideologies opposed to their own as a Nazi. This is not a left and right issue. This is also not a justification nor a means of disregarding dangerous viewpoints or ideologies. What this is instead is a specific statement as to what separated Nazi Germany from much of what people refer to today as Nazi behavior. I’ve seen people on the right call Barack Obama a Nazi. I’ve seen people on the left call Donald Trump a Nazi. You can criticize, even despise the Iran deal or the situation on the border, but neither of these facts put either president even close to being in the same category as Adolf Hitler. Furthermore, even if one would feel strong critique for Israel’s handling of the Palestinian situation or feel a disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, invoking Nazi atrocities as a comparison to today’s Israel is nothing more than a disingenuous use of a term to promote a dangerous anti-Semitic political agenda.
None of this is to say that we should turn a blind eye to the dangers that exist both in our respective countries or abroad. But it is important to note, that if one is to learn from history it starts by doing everything necessary to study it accurately. What the Nazis did between 1933 and 1945 is perpetrate an evil unlike anything the world had ever seen. To improperly identify and remember what took place not only dishonors all those murdered, it puts us all in greater danger of seeing it take place once again.