My parents both ended up in Kansas City because of anti-Semitism. My father's family came to Kansas City in the early 1900's from Poland. My grandparents came here via Palestine in 1928, the year before my father was born. My grandmother's sister never left Warsaw, and she and her family were slaughtered by the Nazis.
My mother and her parents and grandmother fled Germany in November 1938, weeks before Kristallnacht. She had two first cousins who, as boys, separately left their respective families, both to never see their parents again. My grandfather's sister and brother and their spouses died in Auschwitz. One son got to Kansas City at 16 years of age, to fend for himself while unsuccessfully trying to save his parents. The other cousin, at eleven, hid out in France from 1939 through the end of the war, visiting his parents once before they were sent to Auschwitz to perish in 1942. Henry led a life no boy should have to live on the run in France with false names and constant fear of discovery by the Vichy.
When I was growing up, all of my grandparents had accents. My grandmother's German accent was so comforting to me. She called me Lynnilla and my siblings were Joycilla and Robbilla. We used to mimic her "Auch du lieber, Gott in himmel," and we had "bed hoopsillas" (a piece of chocolate) for when we went to bed. She fixed sauertbraten and schnitzel and talked about what it was like as a little girl when her father went off to fight for Germany in World War I. Yet, she really didn't talk about the Nazis. What I learned came in little pieces through time. My mother as a little girl recalled the Gestapo storming their house every Sabbath evening. She remembers the non-Jewish children throwing rocks and her and how my grandmother steered her down side streets when the Nazi youth marched by so that that they would not have to salute. In retrospect, I wondered why they never taught us German, and then I realized how they no longer wanted German to be a language the family spoke. When Oma, my grandmother, took our whole family to Israel when I was 20, I remember how she almost could not endure our trip to the Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem. Oma did not like to cry in public, but she could not hide her tears.
I have always been drawn to representing those who were singled out because of their race, or sex, or age. I grew up when women started gaining momentum in the 1970's. Perhaps, I was just part of the "feminist revolution," but that didn't ring true. I relate to those people who have to fight to get equal rights. In my mind, I relate to the plight of African-Americans, Muslims, gays, sexual harassment victims. I know what it is like not to get a fair shake, even though I personally never had it so bad. After all, I grew up in Kansas City. I went to college. No one tried to kill me. No one refused to give me a chance. But, for me, I have always related to the plight of my forebears, to the generations of Jews who were reviled and persecuted, like those of my forebears just one generation removed from me. And I weep for the hundreds of years that this country fostered barbarism and slavery, even though my family did not even live in this country then and was undoubtedly subjected to Pogroms during those times.
I know that we are humans and humans are imperfect. I know that we can all be cruel. I know that I have been cruel towards others more times than I care to admit. I read books about war and genocide. I seem to be obsessed with humans' inhumanity to humans and I try to understand why we are this way. I read about Rwanda and Vietnam and North Korea. I try to understand how this country could have been founded off the toil of slaves in the not so distant past. Is this what humans are? Are we destined to be violent and jealous and cruel?
On days like today, I feel sad. Perhaps I am so profoundly sad because this act today in this piece of my world was fueled by anti-Semitism. Yet, I hear tales of racism and sexism and ageism almost daily. I wonder what will really have to happen for the hatred in this world to dissipate. I suppose the hatred will always be there. We can only hope to understand why people hate others and work to make things better. I guess that is little consolation to the parents of that poor boy, who wasn't even Jewish, and just happened to be in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center today. I am too old to believe that this poor child's death and the deaths of the two adults were anything but tragic. Will we ever overcome our cruelty to others? I am not hopeful. I wish I was.