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Wednesday Post

Joie Rose's picture

I grew up in a household filled with self righteous spite towards any inkling of anti-Semitism my grandfather could put his finger on. "It all comes back to the Jews, and hatred of the Jews. The Jews have endured more pain than anyone". My grandfather, his brother and his mother were the only survivors from their family of early years of the holocaust. They escaped to America from Poland, and my grandmother and her parents came from Russia. My grandfather’s family was dirt poor and his mother used to make him and his brother stand on the breadlines because she was too ashamed. This was before my grandfather went to fight in World War II. But we don’t talk about that.

My father grew up, one of two sons of these grandparents, in the Bronx. In a neighborhood divided by stark ethnic borders that segregated the Italians, the Irish, and the Jews. My father used to tell me stories of the beatings he took from the Italian boys whenever he came close to their part of the neighborhood. Or the stones the Irish boys used to throw over the border. My grandmother once ran into an eleven year old girl who she always recalls with a shudder; ‘an evil, rat faced little girl, with slick black hair’, who hissed at her and called her a Jew Witch. So many times my grandparents and my father and uncle were denied service once people found out my grandmother’s maiden name was Goldman. So many childhood friends were lost to the hateful comments of parents telling their children not to spend time with my father and uncle because they were Jew boys. Jewish filth. I too had my fair share of run-ins, growing up in the only completely Jewish family in a town populated by ultra-rich white Christians on one side, and lower middle class Chinese and Korean, Japanese ex-pats on the other side. My family gres up somewhere in the middles. A lower middle class jewish family on the very outskirts of town, in a brick appartment building filled with all those who didn't fit into the neat categories of culture that populated our town.

            This upbringing imbued me with a similar sense of self-righteousness about my religion and culture, although it is a quality I have been trying to unlearn, for it has limited use. It has, however, inculcated me with a ready arsenal of examples of injustices committed against Jews and an extensive knowledge of the holocaust.

So when I read about injustices perpetuated on a ‘peoples’, in the Rawlsian sense of the word, I cannot help but tie it back to the Holocaust. The lorries that Rigoberta’s family would travel in were distinctly reminiscent of the concentration trains that Jews were forced to ride. The labor on the finca’s seemed to shadow the forced labor of concentration camps. And the blind hatred of a culture that is simply not understood is something that has been around since time immemorial. But it was amplified, exploded and acted upon in the Holocaust in a way that the developed world had not seen in many, many years. What this book (or at least what I’ve read of it so far) has brought to light for me is that the capacity for human evil is boundless, in spite of the human beauty and goodness that still somehow, persists.

            There are small scale, and large scale holocausts occurring all over the world, every day. So who am I to be so righteous about the suffering my family has endured. My pain, my father’s pain, and his father’s pain is no greater or less than the pain of others. One of the many things that my father has taught me is that pain is pain is pain. Regardless of the context. And there is humanity in pain. Compassion and commiseration. So the only thing left to do is to try and learn from that pain for yourself, and then learn empathy for others. It is the only way to tip the balances in favor of goodness and beauty.