Parting Glances: Just fill in the blank

Charles Alexander
By | 2017-05-02T09:00:00-05:00 May 2nd, 2017|Uncategorized|

I met Ernie when I was 19. He was 23, a student of classical music and a ballet dancer. He came up to my shoulder in height, and we looked like Mutt and Jeff. He was Jewish and his grandparents came here from Poland.
His parents, Gert and Dr. Sam, called me a “long loksh” (Yiddish: long noodle) and often invited me to family get togethers.
Ernie told me a cousin of his was somehow saved from the gas chamber and had a forearm-tattooed ID number. Ernie didn’t elaborate. In the late-50s not much was said about the Jews and the “final solution”.
Those Jews who survived didn’t want to talk. And those living here didn’t want to listen. On both sides it was too painful a subject to dwell upon in the decade-and-a-half following the defeat of Nazi Germany. It wasn’t until the 1961 Jerusalem trial of Adolf Eichmann — a key Nazis responsible for the mass murder of 5 to 6.2 million Jews — that survivors began to share their horror stories.
This year marks 60 years since the Auschwitz Concentration Camp liberation, where 1.1 million men, women, and children were gassed and cremated — around the clock, non-stop — for three hellish years.
A five-part PBS special, “Auschwitz: A Nazi State within a State,” and two new books — “Auschwitz: A New History” (Laurence Rees); “What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany” (E. A. Johnson/Karl-Heinz Reuband) draw upon new documentation and interviews of elderly Germans (non-Jewish and Jewish) who only recently decided to go on record.
How much the average German knew about the gassing is still debated. (New testimony claims widespread knowledge — usually rumors — from 1942 on, as well as “little knowledge at all” until after the war. Consensus: Most Germans pretended not to know.)
What’s actual fact is that the persecution of Jews was a matter of public record when Hitler came to power in 1933. Boycotts of Jewish shops and businesses by Nazis got immediately underway, and in 1935 the Nuremberg Laws legally deprived Jews of citizenship.
Signs announcing “The Jews are our misfortune,” appeared everywhere (taken down during the 1936 Olympics). A pornographic, anti-Semitic weekly “Der Sturmer” — depicting cartoon Jews with big noses and beady eyes, offering candy for sex to blond German girl — was sold in all major cities.
The German majority — including clergy and priests — looked the other way as Jews were forbidden to marry non-Jews, practice law or medicine, teach at universities or public schools, be seen in public parks, swimming pools, or restaurants, ride in buses or trains, or be on streets after 8 p.m. curfew, and — under penalty of arrest — always wearing a correctly stitched yellow star.
In November 1938 the Nazis staged “Kristallnacht” (for the shattering of glass). It was a “reprisal” for the shooting of a Nazi diplomat by a young, distraught Jew whose parents were in a Polish CC. Thousands of stores were looted, 267 synagogues burned, 91 Jews were murdered and 30,000 sent to Dachau CC, never to return. The world was shocked — but did nothing.
Could it happen again? Could it start here? Consider: America’s anti-Semites once included big names like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and Shrine of the Little Flower’s national radio broadcast/demagogue Father Charles E. Coughlin. Germany’s penchant for CC record keeping was abetted with IBM-licensed technology. And fleeing shipboard Jews seeking safe harbor in our ports were turned away.
The 2005 envelope, please: THE [ ] ARE OUR MISFORTUNE! Anyone we know?

About the Author:

Charles Alexander