Guest Column by Roslyn Abt Schindler
Anita Diamant, author of “The Red Tent,” wrote the text below as she watched the horror unfolding on Shabbat, Oct. 27:
“At Least My Parents, Both Holocaust Survivors, Aren’t Alive To See This.”
It is a profoundly important and moving statement and text, especially for those of us who are children of Holocaust survivors who, sadly, can relate so well.
I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and I have spent much of my academic career both teaching and writing about the Holocaust, including a memoir about my mother’s experiences, called “(Re)visions of a Life: My Mother’s Holocaust Story.” The course I taught for many years at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, was entitled: “Understanding the Holocaust One Life at a Time.” It is so important to go well beyond statistics and remember the individuals who were targeted, persecuted, and killed by the Nazis—primarily Jews but also people of color, the Sinti and Roma people, gays, and others. Remembering names is a significant ritual during the Kaddish prayer every Sabbath and on Yom Kippur and other holy days when the memorial prayer of Yizkor is said:
Each of Us Has a Name
by Zelda (trans. Marcia Falk)
Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents
Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile . . .
My parents were both born in Germany, met and married in the US, and I was born in 1945, their only child. My father died in 1967, but my mother lived until Dec. 21, 2004. Whereas my father died when I was just entering adulthood (I was 22), my mother lived long enough to witness my career as a university professor, my marriage, and the birth of our son, Neal, as well as his own journey into adulthood. I miss my mother every day, but, like Anita Diamant, I am thankful that she—and my father—did not live long enough to witness the horrific tragedy that took place on Saturday.
As a Holocaust scholar, I have read Daniel Goldhagen’s 1997 book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust.” Hitler instigated anti-Semitism and hate against other minorities and inspired many ordinary Germans to follow him. I don’t believe that they followed him entirely blindly–i.e., certainly propaganda and lies did their dirty work, but people made conscious choices. I mention this here and now as we are outraged by the latest evil anti-Semitic hate crime in our country at a synagogue in Pittsburgh while the community was celebrating Shabbat, a day of rest, peace, and contemplation. It must also be emphasized that the attack on Saturday was in large measure against Jews because of their connection with HIAS in supporting and assisting refugees and immigrants. HIAS President Mark Hetfield’s statement is moving:
“We used to welcome refugees because they were Jewish. Today, HIAS welcomes refugees because we are Jewish.”
My mother, of blessed memory, was able to flee Nazi Germany in December 1939 only because of the assistance of HIAS.
People—“ordinary” Americans—have been emboldened and encouraged, especially within the last two years, to spew hate freely and attack the “other.” We all know the words that we have heard and the actions we have witnessed. Remember that the Holocaust didn’t start with actions, but with words. I am not making inappropriate comparisons as to the ultimate fate of Jews and other ethnic, racial, and religious minorities in this country as well as LGBTQI and trans persons. But I am saying that they continue to be targeted. We know that. This is fact, not fake news.
We need to resist and speak out at every turn and, especially, cast our votes on Nov. 6. Voting is our most powerful weapon. The midterm elections may be the most important in our lives. We must cast our vote as if our lives depend on it. Because they do. Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
As an American and as a Jew, I believe and practice the words of Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary.” Kein yehi ratzon. Let it be so.
Finally, we mourn nationwide and globally the losses—the individual members killed—and pray for the recovery of those seriously injured:
At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them. . we mourn the losses, the individual members killed, and pray for the recovery of those seriously injured.
When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as we remember them.
—Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Riemer
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Roslyn Abt Schindler is an Associate Professor Emerita at Wayne State University. She’s connected to Spokane through her son and daughter-in-law, Neal and Elizabeth Schindler, and her grandson, Oliver. She has visited Spokane many times and has grown fond of the city and the people she has met there.