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Remembrance of Jews past, but never lost

Remembrance of Jews past, but never lost

Jerry Krase (January 28, 2009)
Jerry Krase - ballpoint pen on graphed memo pad paper
I brought my camera and two of my daughters with me when I visited Auschwitz (Oswiecem) in the spring of 1997. After passing under the Arbeit Macht Frei portal I could not bring myself to photograph anything, but I did scribble this shoe that stood in a pile of "personal effects."

Being reminded of International Holocaust Remembrance Day makes me recall many things... past present and future..

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This special focus on i-Italy reminded me of times past, so I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on line and found this there about INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY:

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27 as an annual international day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era. This date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. Every member nation of the U.N. has an obligation to honor the memory of Holocaust victims and develop educational programs as part of the resolve to help prevent future acts of genocide. The U.N. resolution rejects denial of the Holocaust, and condemns discrimination and violence based on religion or ethnicity. To commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Museum hosts a candle-lighting ceremony attended by the Washington, D.C. diplomatic community, Holocaust survivors, and the general public.

It had this place to reflect and write. This is what I wrote: 
"As many other children who grew up in Brooklyn after World War II the Holocaust (Shoah) was recounted to us, unuttered, in sights and scenes such as the blue tattoos that inexplicably appeared on the arms of people, and the overcrowded apartments of friends who were sharing their everything with newly arrived relatives (I supposed) who spoke with “funny accents.” As children we didn’t know the meanings of it, but we knew enough not to ask. As an adult I know, and wish I didn’t."

In Brooklyn we lived the Holocaust everyday as matter of course. Many parts of the borough especially Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, and Brownsville were peopled with those who had escaped before it began or those coming to the United States after it ended from numerous D.P. (Displaced Persons) camps. Those who hardly "survived" concentration camps such as Buchenwald, Bergen/Belson, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, or  whole cities such as Warsaw, Budapest, or Vilna, came to live, work and sometimes even start new families here. Almost all of the newcomers had families in Brooklyn and if not, they found others, or each other, to begin new lives. That is why being "Brooklyn" is also being not a little bit Jewish, and why before there was a New York State mandated Holocaust Curriculum, we learned about it in school as well as out of it.

I could spend the rest of life writing about Jews to whom I am in one sense of another "connected," beginning with the family of one of my first best friends - Ikey (I assume Isaac) August - who lived, like me, in the Red Hook (low income) Housing Project. Ikey's father worked in a bakery and, therefore, gave my family of seven children, and two occasionally employed adults, bagels, onion rolls, and bialys to eat. Having Jews as good friends and neighbors was multigenerational. My Sicilian American mother told me she was spat upon by her Gentile Greenpoint neighbors because her father was a landlord there. There were few Sicilians around then and her best friend and Public School-mate was a Jewish girl whose dad owned a beer garden. My dad, however, was never so open minded. I think he believed that Jews wore hats to cover the horns on their heads, and he also thought they were especially "lucky." He never understood the Yiddish phrase - "Nil sine magno labore."

I wrote the following for The Brooklyn Free Press in 1997, and it should now be placed here with the image it refers to.
 
Shoes! by Jerry Krase
     It's Rosh Hashana and Brooklyn College is closed so I don't have to teach classes today, so I can catch up on my writing, so I'm reading Newsday and looking for little bits for my Free Press piece on the dismal New York City mayoral elections and simultaneously listening to the replacement liberal talk-show host for Brian Lehrer (who's also taking the day off) on WNYC interview a general who just published a book on the danger of nuclear weapons for the future of world peace answer a question from a caller about why the United States dropped an atomic bomb on two targets in Japan even though they knew they were in the middle of a neighborhood filled with "innocent" civilians.
     While the general is talking about the problem of "ancillary" damage the caller says there must have been some place where THE BOMB could have been dropped without slaughtering civilians and still have made the point and the general mumbled about "American" casualties.
     Good thing that the caller didn't ask the general why, in contrast, during the same World War II in Europe the Allies said they didn't bomb near the German concentration camps because of the problem of potential "ancillary" damage, which incidentally made it possible for me and two of my daughters to experience a "perfectly preserved" Auschwitiz when they came to visit me in Poland last Spring. I waited for Kristin and Karen to get to Krakow because I was afraid to go alone. We went to pay respects to the families of too many of our friends who lost a piece of themselves in the Holocaust.
     My connection to the Holocaust is Growing up Gentile in Brooklyn and I remember things like when I was very little asking my mother to explain "it" after coming across photographs of concentration camp victims in a magazine, and as a teenager delivering orders to people with blue tattoos on their wrists or forearms. In Brooklyn you can't avoid "it" and "its" repercussions; like Max and Helen, survivors of Buchenwald, who owned a coffee shop I used to frequent who always kwelled over my children when I brought them in with me to share my "Breakfast Special".
     Well the point is that when we got to Auschwitz and passed through the Arbeit Macht Frei portal I tried to find something small enough to comprehend. A one-piece-at-a-time-kind-of-thing that could be slowly added up to millions allowing me to remember without being totally overwhelmed by grief and shame for being a member of the human race.
     I found "it" in a mound of shoes behind the glass of an exhibit of the "personal effects" taken from people before they were gassed and their bodies incinerated. I took out my memo pad and quickly drew a picture of one shoe which caught my eye. It was tiny; a young girl's red and white leather open-toed shoe with a slightly elevated wedged heel. It was the kind of shoe my wife and I might have bought for our daughters to wear for their high school graduation and about which they would complain as not being "in style". I imagined that this barefoot child and her mother spent their last moments together in the same room that later I also entered- and then walked out of- with my own children. Shoes!

PS: I don't have the time right now, or the patience ever,  to comment, without rage and profanity, on Pope Benedict XVI's reinstatement of an excommunicated Bishop (Richard Williamson) who seems to take pleasure in the notoriety he is receiving, again, for denying what we in Brooklyn have known since we were kids. I have never been a very good Catholic and such actions on the part of someone who claims infalliblity of one sort or another makes it increasingly unlikely that I ever will be. Shalom (Pace)

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Letter to Dr.Krase

Dear Dr. Krase,

Just to let you know that I would be delighted to be on your mailing list.

In brief, I was born 1927 in Vienna, Austria. My father was a pediatrician whose main interest was poor children. The mayor Seitz, and the anatomist Tandler together with my father conceptualized and brought into life so-called "Baby Health-Stations" which were designed for children of poor families and I am told that they now serve as a model. Since one believes that one must eat, he had a small pediatric practice but since he deliberately chose to settle in a workers neighborhood--in fact we lived and he had his office in a Gemeindehaus (community building). He was a devoted Socialist at a time when Socialists were Socialists and not the watered down versiopn we have today. It is probably one of the reasons that I am an old fashioned and very left wing Socialist.

1927 was still in a post-war era and depression but with the socialist government in Vienna it slowly but surely was getting better. In 1934 the Austrofascists after a bloody week of fightinga (the central government were Christian social (perhaps Christian but certainly not social but a Mussolini style fascism) took over the country. Since we were in a municipa,l building and our apartment looked directly at a Catholic children's home we were under constant machine gun and occasional mortar fire. The fascist physician taking care of the children fled. Therefore, my father was asked to take care of them and twice a day a man with a white flag came out, my father clim,bed over two lines of sandbags to take care of the children and then firing resumed..The Fascists won since the general of the Socialists (a man named Deutsch who must have been mentally retarded--a disease not rare in generals, I am told--gave up the railroad stations, the central radio, the electric works, etc. because he did not wish to "shed blood." Living under this was not exactly a pleasure but there was worse to come.

At any rate, if you are interested please put my name on your list and if you want more of my story (in my 82nd year its not short!!!) let me know by e-mail.

Shalom

Erich (ehloewy@ucdavis.edu)

Thanks, Jerry. I grew-up in

Thanks, Jerry. I grew-up in a small SE PA town where there were few Jews: I knew none when I was a kid in parochial school and only two in high school. I don't recall anything of the Holocaust from parochial school and very little afterward.

Having lived in Brooklyn, now, about 40 years I have known many Jews. I don't have the same experiences that you have from childhood and later. But, I do have enjoyment and admiration from these relationships.

Happy you mentioned Benedict's move. The Catholic church isn't a democratic institution we often hear, but it would be nice sometime to hear some in the upper reaches of the hierarchy (maybe the Brooklyn bishop) express, at least, disagreement.

to hear the hierarchy disagree w Benedict

Insha'Allah. (A Dio paciendo.) (Bog da.) (Gott will) (Si Dios Quiere) ( 上帝愿意 ) et cetera