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Lest We Forget

August 17, 2017

I married into a Jewish family. I joke that I had to marry a Jewish guy from New Jersey to make sure I didn’t marry a cousin because I am somehow related to ¾ of the Midwest.

 

My husband’s last name, Zucker, is German for “Sugar.” It fits him perfectly, I might add.

 

His father’s family immigrated to the United States in the final years of the 19th century when they were just teenagers. Solomon, my husband’s Great Grandfather, came from Bolehkiv, which has been part of Ukraine, Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Austria at different times in its history. It is located very near the borders of the modern countries of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova in far Western Ukraine (here’s a map).

 

The facade of the synagogue in Bolekhiv, built in the late 18th Century. Author: Viktor Zagreba. Copyright © Osrodek “Brama Grodzka — Teatr NN”

 

Solomon worked with his brother, Max, as a “cloak maker.” They started a business together at 32 E. 31st Street in New York (the building is still there). Solomon and his wife, Gussie, had 7 children, which they raised at 700 E. 9th Street, in which this 2-bedroom, 600 square foot apartment can be yours for only $900,000. I picture Gussie and Solomon having a good laugh at that.

 

They were very, very, lucky as it turned out.

 

Since its establishment in the late 1300’s, Bolekhiv was a relatively okay place for Jewish people to live. In the 1600’s, the King presiding over the city, Sigismund III Vasa, confirmed that the three ethnic groups living there: the Jews, the Polish Catholics, and the Ruthenians all had equal rights. Then the Tartars came and burnt it down and it was rebuilt, during which time tensions between the groups began to emerge. Despite this, 75% of the town’s population was Jewish by the time Solomon Zucker left in 1899.

 

In 1935, the Polish Government urged its citizens to boycott Jewish businesses, which obviously caused their economic situation to deteriorate. Times were not just difficult for Jews in Bolekhiv, but all across the region of Galicia, which was heavily populated by Jews. Contemporary media records many violent attacks against Jews during this time resulting in hundreds of deaths.

 

Despite this, Bolekhiv’s Jewish population rose to 3000 by 1940, and the town supported four synagogues.

 

In late October 1941, the Germans had started to carry out their plan to annihilate the town’s Jewish population. They began to bring Jews from surrounding towns and villages to Bolekhiv. First, they rounded up about 1000 people in the town square, from which they marched to another town center and tortured for 24 hours. They were especially terrible to the rabbis. From there, the survivors were taken to the forest to be shot and buried. Some were still alive when the soil fell on top of them.

 

One year later, in September of 1942, the Gestapo bragged that they killed 600 children in Bolekhiv in one day. 800–900 adults were also killed. Two thousand others were marched and forced to sing to the train station, where they rode to their ultimate ends at the Belzec death camp.

 

These “Aktions” by the Gestapo and local collaborators continued throughout the war, and by the end, they had murdered all but 48 of the thousands of Jewish people living in Bolekhiv.

 

These were my husband’s ancestors and kinsman.

 

Their annihilation was carried out under the same Nazi banner flown by people doing the same salute and battle cries as the barbarians in Charlottesville.

 

Their annihilation was carried out under the same Nazi banner my grandfathers and numerous great uncles fought to rid the world of.

 

By walking alongside that banner, you are co-signing this level of death and destruction.

 

By saying “there are some good people”

involved with this group, you are                   Memorial to the town of Bolekhiv at the Holon    

rationalizing this level of death and              Cemetery in Israel. Photo by David Shay.

destruction.

    

By not calling them what they are and making them more marketable and mainstream and giving them a voice, you are setting in motion a series of events that could end with this very same scale of death and destruction.

 

Among them would be my family. As I was watching the Vice documentary, I was struck how one of the barbarians said that the President “gave his daughter to a Jew.” I, too, married a Jewish man. I, too, have two children who will grow up identifying as partly Jewish and who carry a “Jewish last name.”

 

Among them would be the families of many friends, whose children are not “racially pure” enough to exist in the view of these lowlifes.

 

Like the children of a friend who lives in Charlottesville. These children had to ask why they couldn’t go outside and play last weekend. These children will grow up and see the video of their hometown’s historic district and park littered with White Supremacist vermin and will hear the sounds of screams and a murderer’s car engine echoing off of the buildings.

 

Like the child of a friend, who was adopted from Central America. When he heard that something had happened in Charlottesville, he asked his mother about it. She searched her heart for words that would touch on the truth but wouldn’t frighten the child. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him that the barbarians were yelling about people who looked like her little boy. She fears for him as he grows up, being the target of hate and suspicion.

 

If my friends do everything “right” in raising their children, even when they grow up to be stellar, law-abiding members of society, there is still always the chance that they be swept up in some cloud of suspicion through no fault of their own.

 

No child should have to live this way.

 

No one should excuse a child’s having to live this way.

 

No person should rationalize children to having to live this way.

 

No head of state has any business employing people who dance across what should be a line in the sand.

 

No head of state has any business qualifying what the White Supremacist vermin stands for, stands beside, or advocates.

 

These two facts are especially true considering that the head of state who has done these very things stood at the Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust, just three months ago, with his Jewish daughter and son-in-law.

 

In that building, you will find evidence of the atrocities of the Holocaust, so no one will ever be believed when they stand up and say that “Hitler never used chemical weapons against his own people.”

 

You will also find the testimonies of Rivka Mondshein, Mathilda Geleranter, who witnessed the first and second “Aktions” by the Germans in Bolekhiv. You can read about what they saw here.

 

If you stand beside that flag, you are an enemy of humanity. If you stand beside that flag, you are an enemy to human decency. If you stand beside that flag, you are a traitor to the very life God has breathed into you.

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