CNN ran a story today about an unsung hero, James Hoyt, who died as quietly as he lived. When he was 19, he was one of the four men who discovered, and later helped liberate, Buchenwald Concentration Camp in 1945.
Buchenwald was an equal opportunity concentration camp. "Jews and political prisoners were not the only groups within the Buchenwald prisoner population, although the “politicals,” given their long-term presence at the site, played an important role in the camp's prisoner infrastructure. Recidivist criminals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and German military deserters were also interned at Buchenwald. Buchenwald was one of the only concentration camps that held so-called “work-shy” individuals, persons whom the regime incarcerated as “asocials” because they could not, or would not, find gainful employment. In its later stages, the camp also held prisoners-of-war of various nations, resistance fighters, prominent former government officials of German-occupied countries, and foreign forced laborers."
I have a fairly cushy American life. I often don't even remotely think about the things that my grandparents or their parents had to go through to get to this country. My mother's grandfather came over from Ukrainia a long time before the Holocaust, about 4 years before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He worked in New York and slowly sent over money to bring his children and his wife over, one or two at a time. The rest of his family may not have been so lucky. After the holocaust, no one ever heard from them, again. For all we know, they are buried in a mass grave at Janowska.
For the most part, I have been raised as a Catholic, by a Jewish mother. There is no end to the guilt that I feel. I have to say, though, that I never forget my Jewish heritage. Which is weird, because my mother never really taught that to us. She only pulled it out of her bag of tricks when she felt it was necessary. (How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? "That's okay, I'll sit in the dark.")
Maybe as the youngest, I was less forced into going to church with my father, I was the only one who never made my first communion. I know I floundered about for something to believe in for a long time. I still do flounder, even though I chose to raise my son Catholic. I chose to do that mostly because that was all that I knew, and also because of the educational choices in the town we live in.
When I was 18, I worked with a woman who was first generation, her parents were born in the Ukraine. I naively told her my mother's father was from a village outside of Kiev. I claimed to be a "Russian Jew". She haughtily corrected me. I wasn't Russian, or even Ukrainian. I was Jewish.
I had no idea at the time that no matter where a Jew lives, their religion trumps their nationality. I came to embrace my Jewish background after that. I don't practice the religion, but I feel that it is part of me, the way that I am also Irish, and Scottish, and German, and French Canadian, and Oh My God I Am Such A European Mutt!
When I see an article on someone like James Hoyt, my heart goes out to him. I cannot imagine my son seeing the things that he did, at such a young age. And I cannot imagine the other side, having to go through those things or having my son go through those things just because my mother's father was born a Jew.
21 hours ago