[Today is Yom Ha’Shoa. Yesterday I was at lunch and my Aunt Lola was brought to mind, so I thought I’d share this post from 2015: My funny, glamorous, gracious Aunt Lola died last night. She was enslaved in Auschwitz at 16. The full text I wrote then follows.]
I just learned that my Aunt Lola died last night–great aunt, technically, the wife of one of my father’s uncles. Although we’ve lived in the same town for twenty years, Lola and I, I had only seen her a small handful of times during those decades; there’s been bad blood in our family. Not with Lola and me, but elsewhere, and we wound up on different sides. That’s just how it goes.
I loved her very much when I was small. She was small–putting her at my level, as a tall dweeb in a clip-on tie and penny loafers–and glamorous and funny. She glowed. Her rich, thick Czech accent always reminded me of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, which is a not-super-insane association for a boy who watched a ton of TV in the ’80s. I remember one time, at a summer party at my Aunt Denise’s house, at the end of the party, she slipped off her shoes–fancy gold, sharp-toed, high heels. Her toes were twisted and calloused, almost as though her feet had been bound–which I guess they had, although by American women’s fashion, not some out-modded and backward cultural obsession with ideals of beauty (ha! Joke!)
I remember her gingerly stepping from foot to foot on the thick shag in her hose, “Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!” as though it was hot as coals–and she wasn’t play acting; her feet were aching from the shoes and the standing and the heat of the day. She looked up to see me sitting on the sofa across from her, looking on in dismay.
“Oh David,” she smiled, “Sometimes you need to suffer to be beautiful.”
I didn’t know then that, at 16, she been shipped to Auschwitz like a crate of shoes–a slow three-day train ride, because of the congestion on the tracks created by shipping so many other folks to camps, like cattle or shoes or some other commodity. There she’d been disgorged onto a ramp, and at the bottom stood Dr. Mengele. He was making a selection. Some were sent right, other left. Her folks went one way, she the other. She became my aunt, they became ash. She was stripped and shaved and tattooed and beaten, and sent walking to her new life.
She ended up in the barracks closest to the crematory ovens, and so her job was to sort the belongings of the dead–the clothes, the luggage–searching for jewelry and food and blankets and meds and anything of use. To sort it, to box it up for storage, or to be redistributed to widows and orphans.
There’s more, there’s lots more–heck, there’s a second run-in with Dr. Mengele. You can read and listen to her testimony here.
But I didn’t know any of that when I was small–I mean, I knew all of that, because such stories were not rare where I grew up, nor such survivors. But I did not know her story until I was much older–older than she was when she was enslaved–and I’m still learning bits and pieces, because I never heard it from her.
Which I don’t take personally; there was never a good time to share it with me, and there was no bad blood between us. When I last saw her, even though the folks around her were shooting me and my sisters daggers–gosh, even though one of my cousins later sought me out to hassle me about that chance encounter–Aunt Lola was still as charming and gracious as ever.
And I still loved her very much. Let her name be a blessing.
Her name is Lola Taubman; she sorted the laundry in Hell for a time as a teen, and then lived 72 years more, largely here, largely in good health.
This vexes me.
Antisemitic messages were found written over a Pride Month painting on a rock near the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor this weekend.— Combat Antisemitism (@CombatASemitism) June 6, 2021
A nearby synagogue has been the scene of weekly anti-Israel protests featuring antisemitic rhetoric for many years.
Just for the record, this isn’t antisemitism. I saw this Saturday, soon after it was painted, while driving past with my kids on the way to the river. I’m one of the chairs of the Jewish safety committee for this area, so it’s safe to say that my anti-Jew radar is exquisitely well tuned.
“Fuck Israel” written on a public Rock that, for decades, has been a locus of political speech? That isn’t hate speech.
The fact is, Israel is a goddamned country. You can say the nastiest words in the world about Israel, and as long as you keep it about the nation-state of Israel, we’re all good. It’s just like how you can criticize China or the Democratic Republic of the Congo without being racist about it.
Meanwhile, standing outside a synagogue and holding a sign that reads “Israel Has No Right to Exist”? That is antisemitism. And folks have been doing it just a few hundred feet up the street from the goddamned Rock for 16 years and Ann Arbor has done shit about it:
I’ve got no clue if your message is the command “KIKE: FREE PALESTINE 卐!” or the wish for a “KIKE-FREE PALESTINE 卐”, and that’s driving me nuts. Please, parents: Don’t just teach your children to hate Jews; teach them to use hyphens and colons properly!
Straight talk, though: If you’re vandalizing a synagogue in England—regardless of what words you paint—it really doesn’t have shit to do with Palestine or Israel or whatever. Likewise, if you are holding a protest outside a synagogue (as has been the case at the synagogue ~1 mile for my house for the last 16+ years), it has nothing to do with what’s written on the signs.
Similarly, the extremely high likelihood that right now you’re thinking “My Gosh! That is so clearly and obviously wrong, but you have to admit that Israel blah blah blah…” —that thought, it doesn’t have shit to do with Palestine, either.
The vandalism is anti-Jewish.
The protest outside a synagogue is anti-Jewish.
Expecting Jews in England or Michigan or—hell, anywhere OTHER THAN ISRAEL—to bear some special responsibility for Israeli domestic policy is anti-Jewish and, frankly, crazy. It’s literally the same as protesting outside a Black church because you’re upset about the ongoing lack of accountability or reconciliation from the Liberian Civil Wars, or protesting the Xinjiang internment camps by picketing outside of a Chinese restaurant.
The fact that any of what I’m saying maybe makes you uncomfortable, that’s for you to sort out.
But if you’re afraid I’m maybe implying you harbor anti-Jewish sentiment, here’s a test you can do in the privacy of your own head, and never tell anyone the outcome. Do you agree with the following statements:
- I feel weird acknowledging the 3000+ rockets Hamas fired at Israeli civilians in the past month without also acknowledging the 20x difference in Israeli and Palestinian casualty rates.
- When someone mentions the 58+ Palestinian children killed in this latest paroxysm of violence, I don’t even think for one second about the terror of ~3000 rockets coming at you in a single month.
If you answered YES to both, congratulations: You’re pretty much like every other person in the world. If you’ve ever wondered how something like the Holocaust happens, now you know.
Sorry to be a bummer, but real talk and then we’re done: Did you feel worse about the thousand rockets, or the 58+ Palestinian kids, or the fact that some Jew in Michigan called you out about it?
You probably feel attacked right now, so I want one last thing to be crystal clear: My answers to those two questions were “Yes”es, too. If your culture has a bias, you have that bias as well—even if, in your heart of hearts, you despise the bias. Even if that bias contributes to your own destruction. None of us get to stand outside our culture; there are no free passes in this game. It’s noble to want to fix Israel, or Liberia, or China—but sorta weird not to give a moment to healing yourself, too.
Incidentally, my source for the image above includes some interesting history (which I’ve touched on before) specific to the town where this happened:
This anti-semitic attack in Norwich makes me want to tell a story of the Jews of Norfolk. By way of background, the first synagogue in Norwich dates back to 1087. This is a story of both hatred and decency. Of English antisemitism. This is the story of William of Norwich. 1/8 https://t.co/oP6EoqJDkg— Daniel Korski (@DanielKorski) May 14, 2021
(here’s an easy-to-read “unrolled” version of his eight-part tweet, which is worthwhile)
… but for those looking for insights into why the Defeated PotUS is obsessed with an absolutely anti-factual narrative of a rigged election, this is worthy reading, especially the “Royal Intervention” sub-section:
The difficulty remains as to why King Henry and his servant John of Lexington would have believed the accusations in the first place. … While the decision to act belonged to the King, Langmuir believes that he was weak and easily manipulated by Lexington. Langmuir says Henry III has been described as; “a suspicious person who flung charges of treason recklessly, [who] was credulous and poor in judgment, and often appeared like a petulant child. When to these qualities we add his addiction to touring the shrines of England, it becomes easier to understand why he acted as he did…” Langmuir therefore concludes that Lexington “incited the weakly credulous Henry III to give the ritual murder fantasy the blessing of royal authority”. Jacobs on the other hand sees the financial benefits that Henry received as a major factor, conscious or unconscious, in his decision to mass arrest and execute Jews. As noted above, he had mortgaged his income from the Jews to Richard of Cornwall, but was still entitled to the property of any Jew executed, adding that Henry, “like most weak princes, was cruel to the Jews”.
Note the profit motive, the crushing debt, the love of touring from big public event to big public event, the absolute credulity to believe what is convenient, the tendency to flit and flip-flop from outrage to outrage, and a reflex to accuse sinister cabals composed of largely powerless minorities of master-minding vast schemes against a blameless populace.
If all of this seems long ago and far away, then please note that QAnon, Pizzagate, and a goodly portion of current Trumpery-driven White Violence is just this same story repeated over and over and over again.
Nice prayer at the bottom of that link, though.
Anyway, Happy Nittlenacht everyone!!!