I grew up in America in the 60′s. Fear and guilt were my constant companions.
In our “Progressive” household, we watched the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy on television; Vietnam unfold at the dinner table and Watergate spin out of control; and the military-industrial complex and intelligence community grow. We thought then that the danger was tyranny from the “Right.” And, at that time in America, it seemed we were correct. But, today it is the “Left” who threatens liberty.
My grandmother emigrated from Poland, before the Nazi and Soviet atrocities. She became American, through and through. She was dedicated to freedom so much so that after World War II broke out in ’39, she tried to enlist. The recruiters laughed at this tiny, almost middle-aged woman with a heavy accent. But, as the reality of Europe became more clear, they laughed less, and respectfully called her “little Mother.”
After Pearl Harbor– the Pacific seeming poised to fall, and Hitler declared war on America– they came to visit her in a government sedan. They asked her if she still wanted to fight, and offered her a job. She became a welder in Kaiser’s Sun Shipyards in Marcus Hook, near her Wilmington, Delaware home. She built cargo ships that were called “Liberty ships.” She soon took to bossing big men too old or unfit for active duty.
And though America won, she lost almost all her family who stayed behind – only two survived. One a little strawberry blonde, blue-eyed, five year-old Jewish girl in a death camp, who the Nazis just didn’t have time to exterminate before the Russian onslaught from when the East swept over them. After surviving in the displaced persons camps, she finally found herself in Israel. She made a new home and family.
Cousin Genia came from Israel after the Six-Day War, to visit my Grandma Mincha. I was sitting with her in Grandma’s house in Wilmington, on horrible thick clear plastic sofa pillow covers that protected hard-earned furniture, when I saw the numbers on her arm. The precocious and sensitive boy that I was, I reached out and gently touched the tattoo. I said, “I know what those are. Don’t worry. You’re in America now. You’re safe. It can never happen here.”
I will never forget it– as if I could ever forget anything– the look on her face. She went ashen and blank, and seemed to just, well, disappear. She sat there, but it was as if there was no one left. I felt strangely alone. After a moment, she ran from…