The drone footage of Auschwitz is being far to kind in my opinion. Over 11 million murdered. Over 1 million murdered 70 years ago on this very spot. My Grandmother was one of the very few to survive. Her name was Lily. She was a tall, curvaceous, fairest of fair skinned, fiery redheaded Hungarian. Think Zsa Zsa Gabor with red hair. When she was taken by train to the camps she had already lost all of her brothers, her husband, one sister to America and she assumed her other sister, her nephew and my father were dead. They were not. My great aunt jumped off the trains with her then 2 yo son and my then 6 yo father. Risking death for all, they made it back to Budapest and spent the rest of the War in hiding. My grandmother survived the concentration camps on luck and strength. Strength from within and luck in the form of a man named Victor. He was a lawyer working in the offices. Unbeknownst to the Nazi party he was a Jewish sympathizer and working for the Jewish liberation. Somehow he met my grandmother and secretly fell in love with her. Because she spoke three languages he convinced the officers to allow her to work in the offices. She had a few hours of warmth in the offices and Victor snuck her scraps of bread to keep her alive. They both could have been killed for this. His love literally saved her life. When the Jews were liberated at the close of the war he declared his love for her. They returned to Lily’s home in Budapest in hopes of gathering what few keepsakes they could salvage before they moved onto the next chapter of life. As they stood outside the apartment looking up at the destruction my grandmother saw the face of her son peering out a window. At that very moment on that very day my father also returned for the same reason before he was to travel to America with his aunt and cousin. My grandmother instantly recognized the son she thought she had lost but my father did not recognize her. The once 140 lb curvy woman was 90 lbs emaciated and bald. They were reunited by fate. Victor Hahn married my grandmother and legally adopted my father. They moved to Berlin and opened a cabaret. I have so many fantasies of their nightclub…dark, thick and smoky, where people came to perform and talk and reignite the Weimar era that was so alive before the war. Eventually they moved to America where my Momma Lily became head cosmetologist and Marshall Fields and my Papa Victor became a pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton. They built a great life for themselves and for us. I am not one who visits Holocaust museums or concentration camp memorials when traveling. I don’t watch the films. I don’t need to. I lived it through my grandparents and their friends. Through their eyes, their silence and the serial numbers on their arms. We never spoke of any of this, I just knew.
Often in this part of the country people will say to me: oh, your Jewish!? That cool, I’m hanging out with a Jewish girl or I’ve never met a Jewish person or That’s so cute, your Jewish! I have no opinion on this but I think to myself you really have no idea about any of this. You have no context for what it really means socially, politically, philosophically or historically. No idea.
All of humanity has suffered at the hands of genocide across all races, across all religions, across all of time. History is closing in on us once again…as a world not just as Jews. We are living in fragmented and fragile times. Propaganda propagates fear, fear propagates derisiveness and derisiveness propagates separateness and hatred. Now is not the time to pull away and shield yourself. Now is the time to sit in stillness and pray for a greater capacity for love and compassion for all. So let us not forget this moment 70 years ago or this story I share or any others that speak to so many times in history where our hearts did not manage to override our fears. We. Are. One. Love. You may share this story if you wish because it is not my story but all of ours. I love all of you very much. L’chaim!