My amazing grandmother, Esther Klein, is turning 91 next month. She was in her mid-twenties when she was liberated by the Swedish Red Cross from an aimless, endless transport, after having spent several nearly lethal winter weeks in Ravensbrueck. Before that, she’d “worked” for several months in Auschwitz, after having lived for a very short time, along with her elderly parents, in a temporary tent city near her hometown of Seredna, constructed right along the railroad tracks, the better for the Jews to wait for their “ride.”
Before that, Esther Herskovitz was a bright, active young woman with bad hay fever, living near the Czech border in a small town in a big house with an orchard and a vineyard and a large, warm family, all of which have since vanished, literally, into thin air. Except the allergies… and my grandmother.
Even nearly 70 years later, it is hard for her to watch the programming for Holocaust Remembrance Day. She told me last night: “It was bad for me to watch people running. I thought I could handle it by now…”
Still, my grandmother talks about it. She tells us stories and gives interviews (like for Spielberg’s project over a decade ago) and does not keep secrets. She lost sisters, brothers (there were 11 siblings before the war, from which only three, Esther and her brothers, Shalom -who left Europe before the war – and Joseph emerged), nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and her parents. Those came with her into Auschwitz but not out. But she has never lost her sense of humor or her dignity or her ingenuity or her sense of morality and purpose. Those came out of the wreck just fine.
Because that is a choice. An extraordinary choice. She and the overwhelming majority of her fellow survivors moved on, brought up children the best they could, educated them (how many children of survivors do you know who are slackers? According to my father, that wasn’t an option on the menu for his generation…), and became among the more productive members of any society they joined. “I didn’t realize what remarkable people we were,” laughs my grandma, “….not just one or two… all of us. At least we didn’t waste whatever talent we had.”
They did not teach their children to hate, but, as my grandmother puts it, “to be somebody in the world. Hate doesn’t help anybody. It just spoils everything.”
Tell that to the Pilgrims of Victimhood at Durban II in Geneva. Mass suffering of nations and races is an old scourge of humanity. It is tragic and it is worth discussing, as a world community. Preferably, grand scale human rights abuses should not be a cause to be championed by people who actually abuse their own people (like, say, Ahmadinejad) while getting very upset that others, elsewhere are being mistreated. More here.
NOTE: Kind thanks to Elie for the hat tip