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Thursday February 03, 2022
At Google, I’m a member of the Jewish Jewish Googlers (“Jewglers”) mailing list. Recently the group admin sent a note discussing the International Holocaust Rememberance Day (Jan 27). I sent a follow-up to the list with the below. Worth sharing publicly.
For those of you who didn’t grow up with parents who were survivors or immediate children of survivors its hard to convey how much the holocaust pervaded every aspect of our childhood. Just a few stories:
My father grew up in a community with many survivors. One day when he was 10 years old he had a couple of friends sleep over at his house. In the middle of the night one of the kids woke up my dad and the others, petrified, asking, “what the heck is that noise?” My father replied, “What, that screaming? Don’t your parents scream in their sleep?”
My grandfather was yelling in german, “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”
The other boys, who also were children of survivors, stared at this “weird kid” in surprise… you mean your parents don’t wake up screaming every night?
My dad, age 8, was going to mail a letter to a friend. He hadn’t done this much before so he showed my grandmother the letter before dropping it in the apartment mailbox. She glanced at it, screamed, tore it to pieces, grabbed my father, and sat on a chair rocking back and forth with him, saying, crying. My dad didn’t quite expect this, so he asked what had happened. Turns out, he had put the stamp on the letter upside down. My grandmother’s father had done this once in her hometown in Russia and was sent to forced labor in Siberia for ten years because “he must have been a spy.” My grandmother was afraid the government would take her son away.
My grandfather nearly never spoke about his experiences in the camps. One of my dad’s friends parents, though, talked about it all the time, but tended to exaggerate. One day this other father told a story about how one morning in the camp all prisoners were lined up in their usual rows. The guards started counting them off, “ein, tzfei, drei… ” (one, two, three…). When they got to number 10 they just shot the fellow on the spot. Then they went to the next guy, and started again, “ein, tzfei, drei…” As soon as the prisoners figured out what was going on everyone started panicking and moving to ensure they weren’t number 10. The guards ignored all the movement and just kept counting, “zektz, zeben…” (six, seven…).
My dad got home and asked his dad if the story was true. The reply was short: “I was number seven.”
The end of this story is that when I was watching this scene in X Men: First Class I broke down in tears in the theater. Not what I was expecting from what was supposed to a relaxing night out.
That’s just three stories, there are dozens if not hundreds of others just in my own family. My childhood was immersed in this culture where an entire nation was wiped out simply because they were the wrong religion.
I’m not entirely sure why I’m sharing this. If you have survivor relatives, consider this a message from a friend with whom you may commiserate. If you’re don’t, hopefully this will help you understand why those of us from holocaust-affected families may have strong opinions on issues, opinions that may differ significantly from yours. “Never again” looks great on bumper stickers, but please forgive those of us affected by the first “never” if we’re a bit more cautious, skeptical, and possibly even paranoid about a potential “again”.