Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society

It's All About Theft

By Charlotte West

A few years ago I was visiting Lodz, Poland, with my father and I asked him about his childhood. He spoke of going to see Hollywood cowboy movies, winter skiing holidays in the southern mountains, summers at their country villa, his private school, his family's newspaper, and then he told me the tale of the grand piano. He said that one day, after the Germans had occupied Poland, a Nazi came to visit. He looked all around the apartment, finally settling on a beautiful black lacquered grand piano.

"Anyone here play piano?" he had asked.

"My sister plays," my father, who was 11 years old at the time, had answered helpfully.

"Bring her here," said the Nazi.

He went and got his big sister, a 16-year-old.

"Play something," the Nazi commanded.

She played a song. The Nazi left. The next day a couple of strong men came to the apartment, picked up the piano and carried it away. So the Nazi had in effect been 'shopping,' only without having to use money. He simply picked out whatever the Jews had that he wanted and took it. Nice trick.

The next day I went to an antique shop on Lodz's main street - Piotrokowska - just down from the Grand Hotel where we were staying. I looked around the large dusty room loaded with 'Judaica' and wondered what I could buy to symbolically reclaim some little object of my heritage, when suddenly I became acutely aware that all the Jewish things had at some point been stolen. While theft seems a relatively small thing to contemplate compared to the fact that the rightful owners were murdered, at that moment, surrounded by all sorts of things in an antique shop, the theft of it all became overwhelming. I realized that there must have been millions and millions and millions of things that they had stolen from the Jews.

Let's see, if there were six million Jews who died and they took say a hundred things from each one that would be, oh my goodness? Small things - like silver candlesticks and kiddush cups, jewelry, china, crystal, furs - large things - like pianos, carpets, armoires, homes, even villas. They took my father's family's villa and five families are now living in it. All those beautiful things - it must have been like one huge candy store for the thieves. Was it all for theft?

A chill went up my spine - the sort of chill you get when you are in a discussion with someone and you come upon an absolute truth, which suddenly illuminates many seemingly disparate things that now crystallize brilliantly into parts of the same whole. In a flash it hit me: for the perpetrators it wasn't really about the 'Jewish character' or anti-Semitism or ideology or religion or scapegoating or anything grand, philosophical, theosophical or principled (albeit wrongly so).

It was about theft. Small, petty, banal, common theft. Theft on a scale so grand and outrageous as to be mind-boggling. A theft so greedy that it searched the teeth of the dead for bits of gold, a theft so meticulous that it turned churches into warehouses with sorting spaces for shoes and clothes of the dead, a theft so insatiable that it drained the last bit of labor out of each Jew on the minimum of rations and experimented with barely alive skin-and-bone children with pleading eyes when they were too sick to work (why waste anything?).

I stood in horror with my hand over my mouth at the thought. I had seen into the heart of darkness and it was filled not with great philosophical sins, just theft, and an absence of morality that allowed this smallness to reign. The 'root cause' of evil is lack of morality. It seems circular, but it is in fact a great truth.

So it is with anti-Semites. It's futile to look for the grand reasons why they do things. Look for the small reasons. They do them because they are evil and smallness reigns. It is said that every generation of Jews has their anti-Semites to deal with. My father's generation had the Nazis and we have the assorted Muslims and Arabs who have declared open season on Jews the world over. Daniel Pearl was killed simply for being a Jew. Who can doubt that we are witnessing the vilest form of anti-Semitism since the Nazis?

Decades ago Jews were run out of Arab countries, their belongings stolen. Barely a protest was heard. Now the Arabs are trying to run Jews out of their own country, to steal their land, land Jews have lived in for thousands of years, historically and biblically meaningful land, barren uninhabited land they reclaimed from swamps and built up into a thriving Israel. Land that only attracted any interest whatsoever from the Arabs once the Jews began reclaiming it. It's the same old story. Theft.

The difference is that the Jews of this generation, unlike those of my father's, are armed. At least they are in Israel. The question is will they use those arms to vanquish Amalek in this generation?


from the July 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




The Jewish Magazine is the place for Israel and Jewish interest articles
The Current Monthly Jewish Magazine
To the Current Index Page
Write to us!
Write Us
The Total & Complete Gigantic Archive Pages for all issues
To the Big Archives Index Page