The Road to Righteousness: The Road That Must Be Taken
By Ariel Mayer
Old Bridge, NJ


 

The world is becoming, as Robert Frost so aptly stated, like “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” The path to righteousness seems to be the “one less traveled by” and the amoral individual has become more prevalent than the virtuous one. The lessons of the Holocaust have never been more important than they are today in our global society, which can eventually lead to mutual understanding and communication for people of all races and beliefs, or take us down the road where we are in constant conflict over our dissimilarities. After all, was the Holocaust not the ultimate lesson for toleration of diversity?

Both of my Polish, Jewish grandparents survived the Holocaust. My grandmother was born in Krasnobrod, Poland. Her earliest memory was at age four, when she saw the “tall boots” march into her village. This was the German Army that invaded Poland in September 1939. Her mother, a peasant woman with amazing instincts, fled the village to the woods with her family. Unfortunately my grandma, tiny legs frozen in fear, could not continue. A German officer was about to shoot her when a cousin scooped her up and made his way to the woods to hide with the others. Red Army soldiers eventually entered the town and enlisted her father and brothers, and they all withdrew to Siberia for the remainder of the war (Interview).

At the age of thirteen, when Jewish boys traditionally celebrate their Bar Mitzvahs, my grandfather a poor boy from Lodz, was regaled instead with the great “Blitzkrieg” of Hitler’s army. He and his family were thrust onto Lagiewnicka Street in the crowded ghetto, where twenty people shared a room, lice were picked daily from their hair and clothing, and food rations were meager or nonexistent. During a 1942 Nazi roundup to the Chelmno death camps, my grandfather watched from his rooftop the brutal evacuation of the hospital next door. Newborn babies, children, the sick and elderly were flung from the windows onto the carts below. My grandpa, silently sickened, posed in hiding. (Interview) Close to 16,000 ghetto inhabitants were sent to their deaths that year, a portent of things to come (The Lodz Ghetto).

On August 6, 1944 during the final liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto, my grandpa’s family and approximately 70,000 residents were transferred to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Packed tightly in a cattle car without food, water or air to cleanse the stench, my grandpa arrived to the sound of barking shepherds and the smell of Crematorium II. He was immediately separated from the women (Yad Vashem.org).

He, his father, and his best friend were paraded in front of a smiling SS officer who was using a riding crop to select which line they should join. My relatively healthy grandfather was sent to the left while his party was sent to the right. Scared and lonely, he tried to sneak over to the right when the smiling officer, Dr. Josef Mengele, vehemently screamed to get back to the left. As he watched his family and friends go up in the smoke of cremation, he wondered why this “Angel of Death” had chosen to save his life that day (Interview). Several hundred thousand Jewish men, women and children were murdered at Crematorium II with poison gas, and their bodies burned in its furnaces, my great-grandparents among them. My grandfather was among the 5-7,000 to survive Auschwitz from the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto (Lodz ShtetLinks).
My papa witnessed many more atrocities such as married couples and neighbors turning each other in to the Nazis, shootings and hangings for defiance and half-dead people stealing from each other for a bit of food. He never once asked why this had happened—it was merely a matter of fact (Interview) as it was to the millions of Jews, Communists, Catholics, Gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally and physically challenged who were violently discriminated. He did not know as a child that the Great Depression had affected the world in a horrible way. My grandpa only knew that his belly was empty and his heart crushed. That same emptiness in his stomach had allowed the monster Adolf Hitler to rise to power on his quest to world domination and the extermination of his appointed “undesirables.” The same heartlessness allowed the world to do nothing (Yad Vashem.org).

At a time when the US economy is waning and self-absorption is on the rise, it is vital to retell the tales of the Holocaust. During times of financial stress it is common to blame the government or a minority group who seem to be thriving while others are not. The scapegoats used by Hitler may be used again. It is not without possibility since White Supremacy still exists throughout the world (ADL-White Supremacy).

My home corners Schindler Drive. When I was younger I wondered who Schindler was. Of course since then Steven Spielberg has introduced this Righteous Gentile savior of 1200 Holocaust Jews to the world (Schindler’s List). Two Schindlerjuden he had saved built my house. The irony is that it is in the middle of an area where there is little tolerance of any minority. One November all the mailboxes in our multi-ethnic development were smashed on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of Nazi atrocities against the German-Jewish population that was a prelude to the Holocaust (“Kristallnacht”). The prejudice remains in our area as an undertone that I have witnessed in school, hearing racial slurs and being frozen out by many of my so-called “friends.”
I have since learned what a true “friend” is. I have opened up to all communities and invited candid and honest discussion between us. This is how I believe that prejudice, discrimination, and violence can be conquered. Children learn these negative qualities at home and they can only be dispelled by conversation and example. I have held my head high when discriminatory words were thrown at me—for the diversity of my choice in friends or the difference of my beliefs. I have always fought against all forms of intolerance, because half my family was eliminated in the Holocaust and I know the heartrending story.

My dearest friends have listened to me speak of the Holocaust and I have learned about the trials their families suffered, which caused them to leave their homelands. They are comforted by my tale for it tells them that they are not alone in their anguish. This I believe is the greatest lesson that the Holocaust can teach; we have all been tormented. My grandma is still that four-year-old child who was left behind and still lives in morbid fear of everyone’s safety; my grandpa still questions why he and not his parents survived. My friends live in the conflict of their homelands, be it Pakistan, India, China or elsewhere. It is easier for the human race to take the road that has always been taken, that is, one of man’s inhumanity to man. It is time that we as a civilization try the other road—the one that leads to mutual righteousness. We have the tools, we always have. They are our understanding words and hearts and the lessons taught by atrocities such as the Holocaust.

 

Works Cited


"Auschwitz-Birkenau." Yad Vashem Education-Selective Readings. 2006. Yad Vashem The Holocaust
Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://www1.yadvashem.org/
education/ceremonies/march/auschwitz.htm>.
The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, 1941-1944. Ed. Lucjan Dobroszycki. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1984.
"David Duke's European American Conference: Racists Gather in New Orleans." ADL 25 May 2005.
30 Apr. 2008
<http://www.adl.org/learn/extremism_in_the_news/White_Supremacy/new_orleans_052005.htm>.
Frost, Robert. The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged. 1969. Ed.
Edward Connery Lathem. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1975.
Kaweblum, Gloria and Morris. Personal interviews for a High School Heritage Project. October 2008.
"Kristallnacht." Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project. 2008. NatureQuest Publications,Inc. 30
Apr. 2008 <http://isurvived.org/Frameset4References/-Kristallnacht.html>.
"Lodz Ghetto Deportations and Statistics." Lodz ShtetLinks. Ed. Shirley Rotbein Flaum and Roni
Seibel Liebowitz. 2007. JewishGen, Inc. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org/
Lodz/statistics.htm>.
Spielberg, Steven, dir. Schindler's List. 1993. Videocassette. MCA Home Video, Inc., 1994.

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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