To set the mood, watch the new version of the classic Passover song Chad Gadya:
Unlike many of my peers of the immediate post World War Two Jewish world, I was brought up totally oblivious of the Holocaust. No, it wasn't a silent, repressed and repressing shadow shading and affecting my life. It just didn't exist, didn't affect my immediate family. My parents' voices and those of the other neighborhood grown-ups were totally American though with Jewish inflections and Yiddish slang. And before you guess wrong, I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, New York.
The fathers in the spanking new garden apartment neighborhood of Bell Park Gardens, Bayside, New York, were all United States military veterans. That was a condition of acceptance to the Veterans Authority co-op. I wonder if any sociologists have written their doctorates on why that and other similar housing developments were almost exclusively filled with young Jewish families. BPG was over 90% Jewish and so were the other nearby garden apartments, Oakland Gardens and Windsor Park. The same went for the one and two-family homes in the neighborhood. All of the new, post-WWII neighborhoods in northeastern Queens were Jewish. Churches could only be found in older, pre-World War Two areas.
I first heard about the Holocaust when The Diary of Anne Frank
was published. It was featured on television shows, and I probably heard about it in Oakland Jewish Center's Hebrew School, which I attended for five years, three days a week. At that time there weren't many books, especially for children, written about the Holocaust. I tried to take out The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
from the Hebrew School Library, but the librarian offered me Minister of Death
, about Eichmann, instead. I presented it to my Sixth Grade class for an oral bookreport. As soon as I named the book and author the teacher interrupted:
"No sixth-grader is capable of reading a book by Quentin Reynolds. You must be lying. You get a zero!!!"
In those days, one didn't question authority, certainly did not argue with teachers. I did read the book, though I probably didn't fully comprehend it.
I only became aware and met children of Holocaust survivors when I joined Betar
. Many of my Betar friends had the opposite
Jewish childhood. All of the parents in their circles were survivors or got out just in time. Think of it as an old film picture and negative. From different directions we ended up embracing the same ideology. Many of us made aliyah and live in Israel.
My children, Israeli born and raised, grew up with strong knowledge and awareness of the Holocaust. Jewish History is intertwined with Israeli culture and education. Personal history, stories of bravery and survival from their friends' grandparents give them an intimate knowledge beyond anything I can comprehend or pass on.