There is a photo in Yad Vashem
, grainy from a bygone age – circa 1940 – that you can’t miss it when you enter the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. The black and white photo is a panoramic view of thousands of people standing in a square facing a stage. They are grouped by the hundreds like orderly rows of hero worshippers, and the view from behind the stage - upon which uncountable numbers of officers and men of rank demand attention - reveals carbon replicas of military personal in gray attire.
In my minds eye, I imagine them as they really were, in colors of green and brown with accents of white lines on red arm bands. Flags with the same white on red insignia fly on tall poles surrounding the enormous square. No one is confused about their alliance.
The day is bright and clear, unlike the heart of the charismatic man making history and chaos. He is recognizable even though we only see him from behind. On his arm is the same red and white band. His identity is unmistakable: The Fuhrer. The Nazi above all others as he must have preferred it: surrounded by Swastikas, idolaters and the silenced masses.
The first time I saw the photo my knees buckled, and I was without tissue, unable to stop the wet, slow, fat tears that fell across my cheeks and gathered in shame on my chin. In one of those transcendent blinks of a moment, I came to a sickening realization. My great-grandfather, K. Genz, was probably in the picture.
There wasn’t an arrow pointing directly to him, marking the spot where my ancestor stood, a man known only through family lore. And according to those stories, K. Genz he wasn’t just your average, conscripted German who found himself suddenly compromised: death to you or death to the Jews, the lame, the marginalized. No, he was a political player of some merit, whose position afforded him access to knowledge and the Fuhrer. Even the photo below - one of a few I've discovered through additional research and obtained from a website devoted to Holocaust history - doesn't confirm his rank or his involvement. But it gives me shivers.
I wonder what he might think if he were still alive to learn that I am now a Jew.
This isn’t a column about my conversion. This is the story of love, of how a woman found herself on an inexplicable path towards a new life, not for the sake of a relationship, but for the sake of her sanity. Join the unlucky club, for your mental health, you ask? As history suggests, Jews tend to run into troubled times more than most groups, yet survival seems inherent to the Jewish peoples constitution. Why would anyone do something so fundamentally difficult and risky?
As I’ve written oft before - albeit from a less personal vantage - love knows no boundaries. Sometimes, a person will fall in love, not with another person, but with himself or herself. I didn’t choose to become Jewish to prove my survival instincts, or assuage my guilt. I converted because Judaism just fit; as if I had a Jewish neshemah, a soul, all along that needed to finally fly.
That is why today, Holocaust Remembrance Day, means more to me than just a chance to waive a white flag of peace, or say a prayer for the millions who were killed at the hands of my ancestors – figuratively, if not literally – because they were Jews, or crippled, or gay or righteous but unlucky in their efforts.
Those who died don’t need us to remember; the children yet to be born do. We must remember lest they believe those who dare deny the ugliness of history and facts. Even in the face of German records and photos, such as the one above, there are those who seek to diminish the suffering and loss.
It is our future, our survival, that beckons us to rethink hatred of the other simply because they are different than us. Alas, the din of vitriolic hatred often eclipses that message. The truth of our common humanity is dismissed by regimes and organizations spewing out violence and misinformation. They count on ignorance and lethargy to advance their limited life views, which are utterly at odds with love.
Nowadays, when someone asks, “Why did you convert?” it is difficult to answer. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, I find myself wondering if the reason can be found in that photo in Yad Vashem. As those who survived the Holocaust enter into their waning years, we must carry their legacy into this next century. Their individual and collective triumphs over evil demonstrate the power of forgiveness, peace, healing, courage and determination. If it takes a gray photo of a black time in history in a museum of light to strengthen my resolve to join this current generation and stand up and shout, “We will not walk that slippery slope again!” so be it.
And that, my dear readers, is why this really is a love story. If someone like me can be embraced by the Jewish community, then there must be a way for our larger communities to meet at the crossroad of tolerance and understanding.
Anything less is uncivilized, unacceptable, and utterly at odds with Modern Love.
A shorter version of this article appeared in Moment Magazine, November 2009.
Tinamarie Bernard's work has appears in More.com, Greenprophet.com, Fallopian Falafel and SheWrites.com. She writes the top-rated Modern Love column for Examiner.com
. Sometimes serious and often spicy, her columns explore love in all its manifestations in order to deepen the understanding of love and create more meaningful relationships.
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All articles ©2010 by Tinamarie Bernard; reposts permitted with link back to original article. All other rights reserved.