Sunday, August 13, 2017

Charlottesville, August 2017

Shame on you, 35!
Shame on you, Donald Trump

When evil slaps you in the face, condemn it.
Clearly and Unequivocally, without Reservation.

Over 70 years ago we fought a war to defeat fascism: against racism, anti-Semitism, homophobism and on and on.  How can we as Americans see Nazi-style violence in our streets and not condemn it and its perpetrators without hesitation?

Though Charlottesville may feel like a one-off, unusual event, Hitler began with street riots that Germans dismissed as acts by a bunch of hooligans.  Of course what we watched there is not the resurrection of German-style Nazism in America.  Nevertheless the president's equivocation, condemning hatred and violence on both sides, is shameful.

Those 1930's hoodlums created sufficient chaos that the Hindenberg government thought the best way of bringing them under control was to bring them into the government.  Mistake! The Holocaust and World War II were the result.

I am not unbiased on  this issue.

One night in 1938 a local cop that my grandparents knew, knocked on their door to inform them that my grandfather was on the list for arrest the next day.  As a manufacturer's rep, my grandfather had a current passport and left town that night.

My grandmother put my mother and my uncle on a train with other children to be kept safe in a Kindertransport to England, unsure whether they would ever meet again.  For many children this was the last time they saw their parents.

These people are not to be tolerated though their right to freedom of speech must not be curtailed.  They are dangerous physically.  They are dangerous to the country's emotional and psychological well being.

Condemn them, Mr. President, unequivocally.  Prosecute their violent and illegal acts to the fullest extent of the law.



 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Stolpersteine/ Stumbling Stones

German artist Gunter Demnig initiated an amazing personal art project in 1992.  He proposed creating cobble-stone sized concrete cubes bearing brass plates that would be inscribed with the names and life dates of victims of Nazi extermination and persecution.  These plaques would be placed in front of homes which were families' last residences.  He ingeniously named these memorials Stolpersteine or Stumbling Stones.  As of January 31, 2017, Mr. Demnig had laid 56,000(!) Stolpersteine in 22 European countries, making the stolpersteine project the world's largest decentralized memorial. Though the stones commemorate mostly Jews, they also commemorate Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Blacks, Freemasons, Communists, the physically and mentally disabled, military deserters and political resisters.

The name Stolpersteine can refer to something one stumbles over as a constant reminder of what happened, who lived or worked here, but it can also have the meaning of stumbling across, discovered by chance, a curiosity.  To be noted as well, in Nazi Germany, when accidentally stumbling over a protruding stone, an anti-Semitic saying was, "A Jew must be buried here!" In addition when Nazis destroyed Jewish cemeteries often tombstones were re-purposed as sidewalk paving stones.  Though the clear intent was thereby to desecrate the memory of the dead, the Stolpersteine function as both reminder and a means of honoring the memories of those who lived normal lives there, raised children, contributed to society, fought in defense of their country.

Although my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles were refugees from Nazi Germany, I peculiarly never thought of myself or my family as "Holocaust survivors".  My immediate family were never deported to concentration camps, never engaged in forced labor, never the subjects of medical experimentation, never lived in ghettos.  So, until recently I did not even think of requesting a Stolperstein be prepared in front of either the homes where my mother and father lived before fleeing Germany.

I am a first generation American.  Both of my parents were born in Germany, my mother in Berlin and my father in Asschaffenburg, a small town in Northern Bavaria.

Hitler interrupted the normal growing up and educations of my parents.  Neither of them finished high school.  My father departed for Palestine at 17 in 1937.  My mother accompanied her brother in 1938 on a Kindertransport to England.  She soon became a companion to a handicapped child.  The family took the child to Switzerland and included my mother.  As a terribly shy 16 year old my mother unaccompanied made her way through Spain to Portugal where she caught a boat to America.  My father remained in Palestine until 1947, having served during the war in the Royal Air Force in North Africa.  He came to San Francisco, where his mother, sister and brother had settled.  Living in Chicago, my mother came to San Francisco to visit a friend.  There she met my father, newly arrived from Palestine, the friend's brother-in-law.  Thus the friend and her husband became my aunt and uncle.

My maternal grandfather was a war hero, having served on the front lines in the German army in World War I, a recipient of the German Iron Cross.  Those grandparents lived comfortable middle class lives.  My mother recalled seeing Hitler pass their apartment building on his way to the 1936 Olympics.  My paternal grandfather was a tailor, living a more modest existence.  He died of natural causes and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Asschaffenburg.

Growing up the only Holocaust casualty I was aware of was my maternal greatgrandmother who it appears was gassed in a train on the way to Auschwitz.  My other maternal greatgrandmother survived the "model concentration camp" in Theresienstadt and lived to 106 in the Jewish Old Age Home in San Francisco.  Only after marrying when Carol sought to collect a family medical history did I come to realize that many members of my extended family had not gotten out of Germany.

So now I decided it was time to pursue Stolpersteine for my own family.  The website said that the first step in the process was to acquire permission from the relevant city.  I sent an email to the Berlin City Hall.  They responded immediately directing me to the respective authority, who referred my to the particular district where my mother had lived.  The notice I then received was that the backlog was so great that the quota for 2017 and 2018 were already filled and that I would be added to the list for 2019.  It had been my hope to plan a trip for cousins, children and grandchildren.  That will alas have to be put on hold.

I have not yet made contact with Asschaffenburg.  I fear that like Munich they may not allow the Stolpersteine.  In refusing Munich has claimed it is seeking for an alternative means of commemoration.  I will continue to pursue the effort.

Nevertheless I am grateful for Mr. Demnig and his privately conceived project.  The Nazis destroyed so much, first of all the millions of lives that were snuffed out, but additionally they interrupted normal growing up, educations, careers, possibilities, based on nothing but pure hate.  It is important that this horror be a constant reminder to the descendants of the people who perpetrated it.