Friday, May 2, 2008

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yom Hashoa was this week, starting Wednesday at sundown through Thursday. That is Day of the Holocaust or Holocaust Remembrance Day in English. I received the yearly yellow candle in the mail from the Men's Club in our synagogue. It arrived with a prayer that can be read with the family. I like it because the children need to be taught about Jewish history. All of it. I doubt they can wrap their minds around the fact that 6 million people were tortured and murdered. 6 million is fully 1/3 of world Jews. I can't even fathom it. I can understand the few personal stories I have heard and just the edges of the holocaust sicken me. I am so sickened that I haven't even been to the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles, even though I know I should go there.

I think the Holocaust is part of the reason for my conversion to Judaism. It made perfect sense to me that my husband, the son of a Holocaust survivor, could not stop being Jewish. But this is a subject for later discussion.

My husband's father is still alive, and has a heavy German accent. He was 3 years old when his mother spirited him out of Germany. His mother, my husband's Grandma Rachel, made an audio tape of her story for my husband before she died. He and I listened to her story together and I feel as though I know her. She was a strong, kind, loving woman with a heavy German accent.

She told of her childhood. Things started to get bad in Germany over time. She and her husband worked as tailors to support their 2 surviving boys. One boy had already died during childhood of a bad flu. Things got really bad for them in November of 1938 on Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass when the Germans went around and broke all of the Jewish store fronts. {Kristallnacht saw the destruction in a single night of more than a thousand Synagogues, the ransacking of tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes, and more than 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. Wikipedia} She was told by friends that she needed to get her family out of Germany and she took this seriously. Her husband and oldest boy were in the most immediate danger.

She took her youngest boy, age 3, and went to the travel agency. For some reason she was not allowed to buy a ticket outright, and needed to sit around in case any became available at the last minute. She went their every day for a month and sat and sat while watching her boisterous youngster. 2 tickets became available and she gave them to her husband and oldest boy, who were in hiding, and they took a boat to Shanghai, China. She continued to sit and sit at the travel agency, waiting and waiting for 2 more tickets to China. Days and days ticked by. She was questioned at one point by a German soldier. "Why are you doing this? If you need work there is somewhere I can send you. You will have to be separated from your boy, of course." Can you imagine her terror?

It was not until January 1939 that she and her youngest boy, my children's grandfather, got their tickets. They needed to travel by train to Naples, Italy, to catch the boat. The problem was, they were not allowed to travel with a large amount of money. Her boy needed milk and food on the train, so by the time they arrived in Naples 1 week early, they were out of money. She begged an innkeeper to let her boy sleep on the floor by the kitchen stove so he could stay warm. The innkeeper saw her plight and put them both up in a room for the week and gave them food. At the end of the week they got on the boat and went to Shanghai where they were reunited with the husband and older boy. Grandma Rachel was one of 13 children, and only she and her sister escaped the Holocaust alive.

The family lived in Shanghai in slum conditions, on a dirt floor with the "rats and the bugs" for 10 years, suffering "scarletina" (scarlet fever) and other health problems. The husband died there. The boys went to America as teenagers in the late 1940s. Grandma Rachel followed some years later. She lived until her late 90s in good health and was lucid until the very end, surrounded by her grandchildren.


d e v a n said...

Wow. That is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing!
I've been to the Holocaust museum in D.C. and it was disturbing and moving.

Lisa said...

I've been to the Holocaust Museum in DC too, it's incredible and sad. Mary Ann, thank you for sharing the story of your husband's grandparents. We ALL must remember what happened, especially as the survivors of that era die and are gone forever.

I admire your dedication to your family and your faith very much. I've always felt bad because I asked you once about your conversion and what that was like (so many details to remember!) and I thought maybe I'd offended you. I certainly never meant to, I just find it admirable and interesting that you chose the path you did. I hope that came out right. Where's the blushing smiley? :-/

beachgirl said...

That's a very powerful story. Thanks for being so open to sharing about your faith.:)

Anonymous said...


deschenj said...

Lest we forget ((hugs))

Kally said...

What a beautiful post.

It is so nice to meet another Jewish Blog Mamma.

The Black Widow said...

It amazes me in today's world how many people think they have it so bad. I'm an American Catholic and I think it was a discrace what was done to the Jews in Germany. What is more ridiculous is CNN covers the Iranian President on how he thinks the Jew camps never happened. You should be proud of your family and of yourself for writing this story..I know I am.

See my blog today and call out for a national "Drop CNN" coverage Day...

The Black Widow