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How being the son of Holocaust survivors made me who I am

Yom HaShoah

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we approach Yom HaShoah and remember the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, I can’t help but think about how being the son of 2 survivors helped make me into the person I am today.

In comparison to so many, I am a very lucky man.  I enjoyed having both my parents around till I was 45 when my 87 year old father passed away almost 8 years ago, and still have the blessing of a wonderful relationship with my remarkable 93 year old mother. Although they experienced their own brand of hell between 1940-1945 in Holland, they were fortunate enough that it did not reach a level that prevented them from moving forward and enjoying their life after the war.  Even with that said, the experiences of my parents made them who they are, which subsequently made me who I am, both for good and for bad.  But more significantly as I write this today, a day in which we remember those who did not survive, the deep emotions transferred to me and my siblings impacted every one of us.

Even when I was more moderate than I am today, I’ve never had tolerance for anything that resembled a lack of respect for Jewish life.  Of course as a normal human being I value all life, but I am always on the alert for any indication that the Jewish people are being attacked.  I won’t listen to Pink Floyd or Bryan Adams anymore.  I don’t like Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs merely because he once did the quenelle, a modern-day reverse Nazi salute in France, in a picture with a well-known anti-Semite even though he insisted he didn’t mean it to be anti-Semitic, and I almost got into a fight with someone at work who did the Nazi salute because he thought he was being funny.  He said he didn’t realize what it meant till his girlfriend told him later in the day.  That didn’t stop me from standing in his face and saying “never do that S#%#%t in front of me again.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I make no claims to be a tough guy, but my Dad of Blessed Memory was as tough as anyone, and my mother is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known.  I was raised by strong people who brought me up to be proud to be Jewish, and most relevant in this discussion, they always honored the 6 million.  As long as I can remember and as long as I was able to have a conversation I always knew about the 6 million Jews murdered by Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany.  And I have always tried my personal best to honor them.

Never Again, a phrase that often stems from or leads to political discussion may be 2 of the most important words in my life, as I am sure it is to many reading this as well.  However today is not about politics, it is about remembrance and honor. Something I learned from my parents, and thank them for from the bottom of my heart, for in the process they made me a better person, one that often stops and realizes the Jewish souls once sacrificed, and the importance of never forgetting them.

 

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Open Letter to San Antonio Spurs player Danny Green

DGreenDear Danny,

I decided to write this letter because I felt that in doing so I would not only be doing the right thing, but that I would also be providing a public service by using this as an opportunity to educate not only you, but others as well regarding an important matter.  The matter I am referring to is the selfie you took at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

Let me start by saying that I personally believe you meant no harm by your actions nor do I believe you deserve too harsh of a reaction from the general public for what I feel was nothing more than a moment of poor judgment.  One of the reasons I feel no anger towards you is because in order to make the mistake that you made, you had to be there in the first place.  So in my eyes, there’s enough sensitivity in the fact that you bothered to be at the Holocaust Memorial to absolve you from the dumb thing you did while there.

Your effort to learn about what happened, as evidenced by your visit to the Memorial needs to be acknowledged more than your mistake needs to be vilified.  However, the proper acknowledgment is in the form of some additional education on the subject, and that is what I will do in a very brief and personal way in this letter.

Danny, I am the son of Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands.  I am by no means a moderate, so there are some who will be surprised that I am cutting you slack, but since I am also not a hypocrite, I feel it only fair that I express my feelings openly and honestly.

Let me attempt to give you a perspective you may not have been able to gain from your visit in Berlin. As a child I grew up hearing about the Holocaust from my parents.  My father lost both his parents, his youngest sister, countless friends and family and the majority of his neighborhood to the murderous Nazis.  My mother lost her father and only sibling, a younger brother, her fiance, and most of her extended family and friends as well.  My father spent close to 3 years on the run, at times imprisoned by the Nazis, often hungry and exhausted and usually alone.  My mother worked in a Jewish hospital, saw patients taken by German soldiers to their death, and barely made it out of that hospital alive.  When she did she spent close to 6 months moving from place to place, constantly in fear for her life, and then spent a year and a half in hiding, sleeping every night in a small, dark and damp underground room with no way to get out unless someone opened the hatch from the outside.  My parents lived through a 5 year period no one should ever have to experience.  But here is where I offer that perspective I can’t be sure you would have without someone sharing it with you. Compared to millions of others, my parents were the lucky ones.

As I am sure you know, 6 millions Jews were murdered by Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  Many were starved, tortured, raped, abused and dehumanized in every possible manner. There were those who survived who went through the same horrors, only to carry it with them for the rest of their lives. The evil was unspeakable and impossible for a normal person to comprehend.  If you truly stop and think about this, and imagine the impact this had not only on those who survived but on an entire group of people, I am confident this will help increase your sensitivity in the future.  If you want to learn more I invite you to read the book I wrote about my parents’ experiences during the Nazi occupation of Holland. The book is called “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland” and can be found on Amazon.

Danny, people like myself,  the offspring of Holocaust survivors, did not all turn out the same way.  Therefore I guarantee you that at least some, if not many, will not feel as accepting of what you did as I do.  Part of your developed awareness will have to be tolerating their anger, because although I may not feel as they do, I do believe they would have every right to react differently that I have.  But I want you to know that you now have an important opportunity to take a mistake and turn it into a positive.  That all depends on what you do next.  As far as that is concerned, I offer you no advice.  That part you’ll have to figure out on your on.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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