Tag Archives: Yom HaShoah

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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The Importance of Zero Tolerance

w-41tonyparker-quenelle-123113Having been busier than usual recently I have not had the chance to post something in quite some time.  However, as I sit here knowing it is Yom HaHashoah, I decided to make the time to write something.  It’s the very least I can do on a day that sadly will always be important to the Jewish people.  The story I will tell is one of zero tolerance, education, and a positive outcome.

About a week and a half ago I was kidding around with a work friend regarding the impending NHL Ice Hockey playoff match up between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.  I have been a fan of the Flyers for a long time and I engaged in verbal battle with my work friend who is a long time fan of the Rangers.  In the heat of our spirited, and to that point fun debate, he stood  by my doorway and in conjunction with an insult towards the Flyers performed the Nazi salute.  Let me say at this point that us Jews who care, generally know who is an anti-Semite and who is not an anti-Semite.  I know with a great degree of certainty that the person I am speaking of is not an anti-Semite.  However, as a Jew, and son of Holocaust survivors, I was presented with a situation in which my reaction would be important regardless of his intent. I stood up, walked forcefully towards the door and with a degree of harshness I save for true and intense anger said “Don’t ever do that sh*t in front of me again.”  Somewhat taken aback by my tone and bad language the situation escalated slightly until we both chose to stay on opposite sides of the office.

That night he called me, and with admirable humility apologized profusely and without excuse saying that he messed up and knew he was wrong.  I accepted his apology immediately for a few reasons.  The first one and most important one being that I knew even as it happened that this is not a person who condones hatred towards the Jewish people in any way shape or form.  His actions were more those of an ignorance to the significantly offensive nature of the action.  And as Jew it was incumbent on me to make sure he would know differently and subsequently never do something like that again.  Something I am very confident is now the case.   Another reason I accepted the apology immediately was that despite the seriousness to me as a Jew, the action was nothing more than an individual making a mistake, something we all do sometimes, which meant that once he realized it and apologized, I was comfortable putting the incident behind us.  There is however one important point relating to this incident that I wish to emphasize.

As Jews witnessing a worldwide resurgence in anti-Semitism not seen since the time of Nazi Germany, we must take extra care in showing zero tolerance for anti-Semitic action of any kind.   When Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, the French “comedian” who is proud of his anti-Semitism does the quenelle gesture, the reverse Nazi salute, he does so with no concern over how much he offends anyone, particularly anyone Jewish.  As a result, no tolerance can be shown towards the action regardless of who does it and their claimed intent.  Case in point NBA star Tony Parker.  Tolerance and acceptance was something all to present in pre-Holocaust Europe and we all know where that lead.  Can our zero tolerance ultimately make the difference between our death and survival in the future?  No one knows the answer to that question.  But we have no choice but to do everything we can to make a difference.  We owe that to ourselves, the world, and the 6 million Jews we will always honor and remember.

 

 

 

 


The Life That Was Not Lived

The following  piece written by my father of blessed memory is the Foreword for the book “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi-occupied Holland.” It is extremely appropriate for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

FOREWORD
by Rabbi Nardus Groen, of blessed memory

The life that was not lived:

This is the story of two people whose experiences cannot be seen as
separated from one another. At the same time, it includes a multitude of people
whose story will never be told. We therefore consider it a privilege as well as a
duty to share with you some of the 4,380 days of our being on this earth.
Existence is more or less a state of exposure. Life, on the other hand,
is a matter of faith. If there was such a thing, my choice would be for
something in between. Some attributes may be applied to it, and others
may not fit the shoe.

We may in the course of it meet people who, for whatever it’s worth,
may be portrayed as heroes, while others are cowards, pacifists, or activists.
They are all the products of mankind. For them, there will always be a
place under the sun (with the exception of the traitor). But being as we are
a homogenous society, no one can ever be left out. And as it is by the very
inclination of the human race, the dark shadow of the wicked will play an
overpowering role in leaving behind the marks in the way of scars brought
upon them by society.

If the worst could ever be turned into good, the only lesson to be learned
of that is, never ever forget. For in the past lay the present, and in the present
the future. Without that, we will be repeating our mistakes and shortcomings,
and as a result the world will not be the place it was created to be.

In order to live, you still have to be able to somehow believe in the
goodness of mankind. In that light, we will start with our first words to
describe that which has been and never should have been.


Remembering The Holocaust-A Personal Perspective

Being the child of Holocaust survivors I have been exposed to the reality of what took place from the time of my earliest memories.  Naturally my understanding of the events developed as I grew older, but from a young age the one thing I knew was that my parents went through something not everyone else’s parents went through.  I never knew my grandparents.  My mother’s mother passed away many years before the war, but her father and my father’s mother and father were all killed in Auschwitz.

As I grew up I went through this stage where I thought that my parents had a pretty easy go of it in the war.  After all, they didn’t have numbers on their arms and my mother was never even arrested by the Nazis.  How bad could it have been?  That stage did not last long as I soon began to gather a more educated understanding of my parents’ experience.

I believe it started with me trying to imagine the relatives I never knew.  I would think of my father’s parents.  Listening to the stories my father would tell, I would always feel a special connection to his father.  One I could not explain rationally or logically.  I just felt a somewhat mystical bond.  His mother would seem to me like a woman with a quiet demeanor but strong willed character.  My father would always speak with them with nothing but respect which inevitably would translate to how I and I presume the rest of my siblings would perceive them.

I would then try to imagine my mother’s father.  He always seemed like the man everyone wanted to meet at least once.  He was an athlete, outgoing, successful in business, while being somewhat mysterious.  At least that would be how it looked through my young eyes.  And then I would think of my mother’s brother and all I would see was a sweet, talented, and gentle young man who should have had a chance to live in an easier time.  I knew my mother loved them both deeply and that remembering them was more emotional than almost anything else.

I would imagine all of them and try to picture them.   How they lived, how they spoke, how they might have spoken to me.  At one point however I realized that when imagining them my imagination never left Amsterdam.  I could not imagine them being picked up in a raid and stuffed on a train to ultimately wind up in Auschwitz.  And I most certainly could not imagine them being killed in the gas chambers.  I could not imagine any of this.  It was just too difficult.  And I never even knew them.

It is hard to conceive the horrors experienced by the murdered victims of Nazi Germany.  Of the 6 million Jews who were murdered during this time, many were tortured, beaten, raped, used for experimentation, and made to suffer in ways that a normal mind cannot even begin to conceive.  And for those who experienced this level of suffering and survived, to make an attempt to comprehend what they felt would have to be impossible.

True, my parents did not have those specific experiences.  What they had to endure was running from an enemy that would certainly kill them, hiding in whatever location they could find regardless of the conditions, being so deprived of food that fresh bread and butter seemed like a luxury, and finding out that almost everyone they knew, loved, played with, studied with and laughed with, was gone.  Taken away forever.  Earlier today I closed my eyes and tried to imagine being in a New York where 75% of the Jewish community was gone and in a world where the majority of my family was suddenly dead.  I could not do it.  It was just too difficult emotionally.   For my parents and for so many like them, they did not have the luxury of opening their eyes and going back to a better reality.  The reality was brutal and would never ever be altered.  All it could be was remembered.

The Holocaust the Jewish people suffered through was of such an enormous magnitude that the people who went through these horrors on whatever level they did are called survivors, when in fact they too were victims.

There are various factors that have contributed to the survival of the Jewish people since the horrors of Nazi Germany.  A case can be made for any one of many reasons being most important.  Some would say it is the existence of the State of Israel, while others might say the commitment of the Ultra-Orthodox or the traditional Jew, while others may say it is the activist who will fight either physically or verbally in defense of the Jewish people.   One thing is certain.  It is not because of the person who does nothing.  Until recently I considered myself one who did nothing.  Although I have always been proud to be a Jew, I’ve never felt like I did enough.  On this eve of Yom HaShoah, I feel a responsibility like never before to be a voice that reminds people of what happened and to fight those with the gall to claim it never did.

It may be too painful for me to imagine, but it is even more painful to my soul to allow myself to ever forget.


Yom HaShoah-Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holocaust Remembrance Day begins sundown Wednesday April 18, 2012.  On all Holland’s Heroes posts we welcome any comments you may have.  This specific post is specifically for that purpose.  Please share any comments you may have regarding this day and the events it commemorates.