So, about thirty-five years ago, my mother’s parents were alive and well, and in the summer, went to bungalow colonies in the Catskills. These were the abode of elderly people of modest means; the younger people went to the big hotels for nightlife. There was no development, no noise — just Jews in the country. As it happened, at one of these bungalow colonies, I noticed that most of my grandparents’ social interactions were with these strange, quiet people with numbers on their arms. They dressed modestly, but they didn’t cover the numbers up. And at some point, as a kid, I had to yell out the question, “Hey, Dad, why do Grandpa’s friends have numbers on their arms?” The resulting discussion was very brief; it had little to do with history, and dealt more with my asking the wrong question at the top of my lungs. But I was told that these were survivors of the Holocaust, and that they should be treated very kindly and gently. I think they adopted my grandfather because he had been very visibly maimed by the Cossacks in the run-up to the Russian Revolution, and they loved my grandmother, because she was so kind and was a wonderful cook; many of them ate very simply.
From these survivors, I learned a few things.
- Life could change very quickly.
- Hitler explicitly wrote and said what he was going to do, years in advance.
- People could not believe that Hitler could come to power in a democratic election
- The rich people sat the election out on the theory that they would make deals with Hitler once he gained power.
- Once Hitler gained power, he did everything he said he was going to do, and more.
- The day that they lost their citizenship and human rights dawned like any other.
- Everyone tried to save themselves, but most died trying — or of depression, or of disease, or of starvation, or of bullets, or of gas.
- They survived for a reason — to tell young people like me that it should never happen again.
- Always support the State of Israel, because it will be your home when America spits you out, as it will in time.
I believed them, little Zionist that I was. Now, of course, things look different. Israel is not a place for Jews like me. So, what’s left is America. And who appears when I check off the first few boxes on the above checklist? You know, exactly.
So, for me, this election is not about good or bad policies, ways of governing, styles of leadership. This is about life and death. And it’s about those elderly people, thirty-five years ago, who had a message to convey to me as a little boy. Never again.