One of the things you grow up thinking about when you are the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors is, “What would I have done?” Who would I be?
There are things that get discussed fairly openly that you don’t realize are odd until you are exposed to “non-Holocaust” families. Like: How many languages can you speak? And which ones will be most “useful”? When you choose a career, choose one that you can do in another country. Adopt the customs of this place. Head down, don’t be dumb. Always be aware of what countries are accepting of Jews in case we have to leave.
Like…that’s not a normal thing to discuss and yet it was so normal to me growing up that I mostly tuned it out and asked to be excused to go watch Nick at Night with my cousins in the other room.
When my mind would wonder what would have happened to me in 1939, I liked the version where I was a hero who persevered and fought back. But there’s always been an undercurrent of shame in me at the knowledge that I might have just….died. With my personality, I’d have tried to speak truth to power and been shot on the spot. Or I’d become silent and small and also be shot. Or gassed.
One source of my existential shame is the ever-present awareness that I do not possess the traits required to endure in those circumstances. I was raised privileged and “soft” with the kind of toughness that works in a university or corporate setting, not a war, ghetto, wandering the Alps, or prison.
Only, I have no idea if any of that is true. I can’t know since I’ve not been in any of those circumstances to know for sure. What I do know is how I’ve responded to the cruelty, abuse, and evil I’ve witnessed in my own privileged life. And that’s taught me a few things I did not want to know.
Namely, that evil is very much a human trait. Not all good people do good things. And most of us when offered the option, will choose willful blindness in order to “keep the peace” (or the illusion of it).
It’s a very cynical view of the world and I don’t like to advertise it since it’s not my personal belief, it’s simply what I’ve witnessed.
My grandfather used to say that ignorance is at the root of evil. I’m sorry Saba, but I disagree. The people screaming “gas the Jews” right now are not ignorant. Many are well-read. Many are in college. Something else is happening here.
We are not fighting about ignorance. We’re not debating facts and information. We aren’t debating at all.
We are fighting about who deserves to live.
And that I sincerely do not know what to do with.
The “all lives matter” pageantry is as offensive as it is true. The “choose a side” bullying is likewise causing a divisiveness that is unhelpful and unavoidable.
But none of it matters because at the heart it’s about who deserves to live and who deserves to die.
And for as long as we believe anyone – ANYONE – deserves to die because of who they are – trans, gay, Jewish, Black, Brown, Latinx, Republican, unhoused, Schizophrenic, Arab, Muslim, – we’re fucked.
I have been lectured on “hate” my entire life and I still could not see or accept that someone I know HATED me while they looked me straight in the eye and told me. They hated me for who I was, who I am. For the things I cannot change.
I still did not believe it.
I don’t know what kind of warped cognitive dissonance and denial is happening in my little brain, but I imagine I’m not alone in this. The book bans have begun. Hate crimes have skyrocketed. The misinformation wars and propaganda have taken over the minds of otherwise intelligent people.
The things we have feared aren’t about to happen, they’re here. They’ve arrived. It’s started.
I have no idea how we rid ourselves of evil or change the minds of people committed to misunderstanding, marred in their victimhood and vindictiveness. It’s not more love because the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.
Perhaps the answer then, is to…care? Maybe that’s the kryptonite to hate?
I don’t know.
I hope so. I have more questions than answers right now. But my existence is not a crime. And neither is yours. No matter how you identify or what you believe, no matter if I agree or disagree with you. No matter who is right and who is wrong. Your being allowed to EXIST should never be in question.
Humanity is a mess. We walked straight into a trap we’ve been caught in before and I don’t know how this will end. Not well. And not soon. But in the meantime, we don’t have to lose our integrity. We don’t have to stop caring. We don’t have to choose indifference.
And we absolutely do not and cannot engage in the hate we see being displayed “over there.” Which we are. Over here.
Hug your trans friends. Hug your LGBTQ friends. Stand up for your Hispanic friends. And Asian friends. Reach out to your Jewish friends. Do not accept hate crimes against Palestinians or Muslims. Do not accept hate period. All of it is the same thing. All of it is the same fight: You don’t deserve to be here. I’m better than you. You are not allowed to exist.
You are allowed to be here and you are allowed to exist.
No one’s right to life should ever be in question.
Le Chaim means “to life.”