“Restless. Some would wonder if I have insomnia.” Are these descriptions working? “If I’m able to fall asleep, I wake up sweaty and gasping for air.” I need Esther to listen to me. “But what keeps me up at night isn’t struggles during my current days, but rather ones that transpired during the war. Withholding my past from you is terrifying. So I’ll begin now. My words will be difficult to digest as they seem improbable.” I’m aggravated when I see the light of Esther’s cell phone flickering off of her face; she appears utterly engrossed in her device.
I’m curious about what is too important to wait on her phone, but I can’t waste time. I exclaim, “There was initially embarrassment, then expulsion from our homes, and eventually mass murder. Jews were separated from their families. Wife from husband. Brother from sister. Baby from mother. Some resisted, yet none were successful in stopping the madness.” This is a substantial introduction. Hopefully, Esther is willing to hear more about the war.
Esther swiftly interjects, “Bubby, I know this is important. But I’ve heard all these descriptions of the Holocaust in school. I was hoping that I could head to the mall with some friends…can this story wait?”
It took immense courage to describe the worst moments of my existence and the horrific deeds inflicted on my family. And now, in the middle of the discussion, Esther claims that she must go to the mall! Esther can’t leave because she has to learn how to prevent a similar tragedy from materializing. I can give her a unique power to help humankind if only she would stay a bit longer.
“The Holocaust!” I shout this, hoping to lure Esther into conversation. “This event was meant to destroy every last Jew, including myself. The entirety of the Jewish nation was in absolute danger. I’m trying to tell you that if you ignore the reality of my past and continue with your comfortable life, you are falling deeper into the allotted trap. The trap where no one recognizes that a similar terror may be arising. Essentially, it will be too late to stop its progression.”
I lightly touch Esther’s shoulder. I then raise my brittle voice. “Esther, please stay.” I believe that now she understands the seriousness of the situation. “What did you receive as gifts for your bat mitzvah?”
“I got jewelry and a laptop from you guys.”
“Were we one of the few older relatives to give you gifts?”
Esther concurs, “Yes, Bubby.”
“So now you can recognize that your Zaidy and I have a minimal number of remaining family members. This means fewer presents at your bat mitzvah. Fewer presents on Chanukkah.” This was the way I tried to bridge the generational strife between Esther and me. Manipulate the more important aspects of her young life to emphasize my point.
She rubs her eyes, puts her cell phone in her pocket, and murmurs, “Okay, continue.” It worked; she is pulled in.
“It all began when I was 19-years-old. I went to school with other German kids. I even had some German friends. But one day, my normal life was stolen from me. My family was transported to a concentration camp together until we were separated at the gates that read Arbeit Macht Frei. Right before my eyes, I saw Nazi soldiers injuring innocent Jews until they surrendered. This moment confirmed to my young self that most Jews would not leave alive.” I pause for a moment. “I’m sharing my story with you right now, but you must realize what’s happening. The survivors of the Holocaust are perishing and won’t be able to pass down their stories—”
Esther abruptly intervenes with what would end the openness of my past, “Bubby, it all seems very unrealistic. And why are you still talking about this stuff 75 years after the fact? It happened so long ago.”
Pain sheeted through every fiber of my being. All my effort went to waste. Her response terminated my personal story and the story of millions of Jews who met their deaths during the war.
Esther promptly heads to the door. She says with ease, “Well, it was nice catching up. I’ll stop by a different time. Love you, Bubby.” Esther leaves and displays no recollection of my story, concluding my last exchange with her.
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