Sunday, January 12, 2014

The right side of the grass.

That's where I am these days, fortunately. So is Leon Malmed although it very well could have been different.

I recently saw him speak to the fifth and sixth grade classes at our temple. I'd never seen a Holocaust survivor speak and wanted to hear one first-hand because it won't be long until they are on the other side of the grass. I also wanted to hear what my children were told because although one can teach their children about the horrors of the Holocaust, hearing a first-hand account is much different than reading The Diary of Anne Frank.

Leon was just two years old when the Nazis entered their French apartment and took away his parents, leaving him and his older sister in the care of their neighbors. It took Leon the next thirty years to find out that his mother died in transit to Auschwitz and that his father lived until six months before war ended. I find it disturbing that the Nazis kept such detailed records however it did give closure to many families, as miserable as the facts were.

Leon told his story, which had many lessons in it. Jews talk about the Holocaust for many reasons. Because people still deny that six million of us perished during it. Because it was wrong, just plain wrong on so many levels. And because we must make sure it never happens again. He challenged this group of children to consider that people don't set out to be heroes but that sometimes, in the course of everyday life, the things they do cause them to become heroes.

The neighbors that took in Leon and Rachel raised them alongside their two older sons, sharing food rations, schooling them and becoming their family in spite of the risks associated with harboring Jews. Because of the promise Henri and Suzette Ribouleau made to the elder Malmeds (only in their 20s when they were taken to Auschwitz), Leon and Rachel grew up, married, and had families of their own. Henri and Suzette were honored at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Mount of Remembrance. Leon and Rachel along with their families and the Ribouleau family, attended the tree planting together.

Leon grew up in Compiegne, France, a village much like the ones our family seeks out on vacation. He showed us pictures of the adorable village prior to the German occupation. And then after it. I close my eyes and picture cute French villages and even the Marais in Paris, which is so Jewish now, with Jews being forced to wear yellow stars on their armbands. It's hard to stomach.

I recently read an article that contained statistics about which countries Americans like. Germany ranked fairly high up there. I wonder how many Germans remain anti-Semitic. Can a Jew ever feel truly comfortable in Germany?

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