Search our Archives:
» Opinion & Society
Day of Remembrance
© Norma Sherry, July 2002
It was the eve of Remembrance of the Holocaust. The day and its message
still wore its horrors upon my brow, upon my being. But, our dearest friends
were joining us for an evening of friendship and camaraderie. Much like many
evenings we had spent together before. But this evening would prove to be
very different indeed.
As I readied our desserts, I began to share a little about the day and all
that the Rabbi had told us about how he survived the Holocaust by miracle
heaped upon miracle. My friend of almost twenty years offered, quite
matter-of-factly, "My father doesn't believe it ever happened."
If I were to tell you that my heart stood still, that it stopped beating for
a millisecond, a nanosecond, I would be expressing how I felt. Transfixed in
my spot, when once again my heart began to pound, it did so, relentlessly
upon my chest, my mouth grew dry, and my entire being began to tremble from
It had been years, literally, years since the truth of Anti-Semitism, flashed
its ugly face upon my own. I had long ago thought it wasn't truly possible
in this enlightened age. Certainly not within my own circle of friends. Not
just friends, but dearest ones, thought even more dear than my own family.
You know the adage, "you can pick your friends, but not your family?" I had
long thought I had carefully picked my friends. Individuals bright and
aware, smart and professional, above and beyond belligerence and hypocrisy.
Individuals who would never buy into the stereotype of prejudice and
But that day, the Day of Remembrance, was the day I learned I was wrong.
I learned something my Grandmother had said to me, so very long ago, when I
was just eleven. I had assimilated. Fooled myself, as my brethren had done
before me so long ago. Proudly I purchased that which I reckoned was best,
regardless of where it was made, or by whom. Boldly I displayed my Krups
coffeemaker and my bright red bowls emblazoned with Made in Germany by
WAECHTERSBACH. When I set my dinner table my knives were the best money
could buy, J.C. Henckels etched in the fine blade.
I drove a handsome red sports car, made in Italy, designed in Italy by Alfa
Romeo. Quadrifolio was the standard. The best. When I reached into my
closet to drape myself in my finest garb, no doubt the label read some French
designer name. I pontificated that it was foolish to not buy the best, that
to blame a country for its mistakes of the past was no longer relevant. The
atrocitors were long passed dead. That the children of today wore no
resemblance to those of their father, or their father's father.
Yes, Grandma, I had assimilated. Or I thought I had.
It wasn't until that evening that I realized that I was first and foremost, a
Jew. Not Jewess in the genteel sense, but a Jew in the vile, disgusting
sense. The same Jew that's blamed for the death of Jesus, or the demise of
the economy, or touted as cheap and stingy, or big and hook-nosed.
In that same instant I remembered my own Mother-in-law, of Italian-Christian
heritage, saying, "Now, don't take offense, Norma, but you know how Jews are
good at 'Jewing down ' someone." "No, Mom, I don't and furthermore, I do take
offense, personally, at your remark. Please don't do it again." For the
most part, she hasn't. But nonetheless, I never quite forgot she said it.
I never classified her as bigoted or Anti-Semitic, just ignorant. I also
never thought her remarks were based in anything ugly. But now I think
otherwise. That no deprecating remark is justified. No words that hurt
another are of any value. And certainly finding excuses for one who speaks
them is not, in any way justifiable.
In that same moment that my friend voiced her fateful remark, my friendship,
my life and how I perceive myself and my friends, has forever been altered.
Perhaps if that had been the full extent of it, I could go back to where we
were, to the friendship we once had.
But it wasn't.
When it was unquestionably clear that her calloused remark upset me, stunned
me - her husband came to her rescue. In so doing, he made a bad situation
"What she meant to say," he proclaimed, "was that her father believes in the
revised version of the holocaust."
As I fought the bile in my throat from spewing forth, I asked incredulously,
"The revised version?"
"Yes," he said, calmly, as if her were about to espouse a fact, a truth, "the
new numbers clearly prove that the number of Jews to have been put to death
were closer to one million, not the six million we've been told."
"Put to death" I tossed in my mind. What a quaint expression for gassing to
death mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, babies, children.
As insensitive as they were, they ignored my plea for them to discontinue
this discourse. However, it was important to them to make their point.
They did and in so doing, I have remembered who and what I am. I am a Jew.
They reminded me of my heritage. Of my birthright. They reminded me of
every Anti-Jewish remark or inference I ever heard or ever experienced. I
remembered how I was told as a child that when Israel was proclaimed a Jewish
state, a homeland for every Jew, that a tree was planted in my name. As a
youngster, I envisioned that somewhere in Israel there was a tree inscribed
with my name: Norma Sherry Reidler.
My Grandparents, first cousins who escaped the ravages inflicted on many European Jews,
migrated to the United States and married at 13 and 14 respectively. They
talked little about the Holocaust. But what my Grandmother did say, stayed
with me, all these many years. She told me the Jews in Europe got what they
deserved, that they tried too hard to assimilate. At eleven, I was shocked
by her words. Those words my Grandmother spoke bewildered me and sent me on a
self-motivated journey to seek the truth and answers. I quivered at her
defining. What could she possibly have meant?
I read a diversity of opinions, from "The Deputy", to "Mein Kampf", then back
again to "The Black Book of Poland", "The Diary of Anne Frank", "The
Nuremberg Trials", "Auschwitz", and oh, so many, many more. I like to think
this was what my Grandmother intended when she said those fateful words to me
so long ago. But I think not. I now know, I too, tried too hard to
So, I grew up with this mentality of pride in my birthright. In the
knowledge that I was born Jewish. I felt all the more pride in the homeland which
Israel had turned luscious and green and fruitful. I felt proud and mighty
when Israel defeated her enemies; when they won the Six-Day war, when they
turned sand into prosper. None of which was my doing, but nonetheless, I was
Jewish, therefore I was part and parcel: a Sabra, an Israeli, a Jew.
Over the years, although I still felt proud, I rarely, if ever, divulged my
born into religion. Although I argued with my Mother that Anti-Semitism was
a rare happenstance, I realized I kept my faith, my Jewish heritage, for the
most part, a secret.
I recalled in an instant every distasteful joke I overheard, every neighbor
who spouted Anti-Jewish rhetoric, every Christian sentiment that blamed Jews
for the ill that befell Christ. In that one evening my world as I had known
it, was irrevocably changed.
I have since learned a great deal about the Revisionism movement. Stunningly
articulate, if one didn't know better. Learned men stating their spin on the
facts. Turning truth into devout disbelief. Revising history and altering
the inexplicable truth.
When I was a little girl and I went to synagogue, we'd say phrases like,
"Never Again", or "History has a way of repeating itself." The truth of
these words were never truly contemplated; never did we consider Jews, or any
people, could ever again be annihilated. But that was before Rwanda, and
Tienanmen Square, and Kosovo, and frighteningly oh, so many more. It was also
before France obliterated and desecrated Jewish temples and Jewish
tombstones. It was before a Jewish child could walk the streets of Italy
without fear of his Jewishness offending someone unknown to him. It was
before the notion of Revisionism, or skinheads, or our knowledge that the
then Vatican gave known Nazi's passports to escape and forever hide their
Never again no longer sounds like some concept unreal. In fact, it no longer
Perhaps not only I, but my brethren have also mistakenly believed we've
assimilated. It's not just the dishes we buy, the cars the drive, the
utensils we fill our drawers with, or the designer clothing we adorn our
bodies in. It's far larger, it's far greater, it's a pervasive, histrionic,
deleterious personification of an entire ethnic group.
One would have but to listen to the words of some of our own nation's
religious and political leaders to know that Anti-Semitism is alive and well
and flourishing in the Christian dogma of the 21st century.
When Reverend Billy Graham said to Richard Milhous Nixon, that "they swarm
around me and are friendly to me because they know that I'm friendly with
Israel. But they don't know how I really feel about what they are doing to
this country. And I have no power, no way to handle them, but I would stand
up if under proper circumstances." He was pontificating his true
Anti-Semitic belief; privately he thought, never to see the light of day, he
was certain. Never, did it occur to him that Richard Nixon was taping the
conversation and that it would endure posterity.
When Jerry Falwell declared that "the Anti-Christ may be alive today, and
that he must be a Jew", he was not just seeking media attention, he was
proliferating hatred toward Jews. Republican candidate, Pat Buchanan's
fixation with the not-so-bad side of Hitler (and the not-so-good side of
President Roosevelt's opposition to him) is not just long-standing, it's
practically lifelong stemming from his father's long-held sympathies with the
isolationists. Also to his credit, reportedly, it was Buchanan who scripted
Reagan's infamous and shocking remarks when he proclaimed that buried SS
soldiers at Bitburg were: " . . victims, just as surely as the victims in
the concentration camps."
Pat Robertson, thinks of Jews as "spiritually deaf" and "spiritually blind."
In the end times, Robertson believes, Jews will be brought in as "offerings
to the Lord." He predicts mass conversions of Jews to Christianity. And in
this enlightened age, and in the new movement of followers of Christ, there
is the pervasive veiled mutterings of Anti-Semitism. My friends, my
ill-spoken friends have said to me, on more occasions than once, the same
words spoken by Christian leaders, that unless I accept Jesus as my Lord and
Savior, I cannot expect to be welcomed in heaven.
Each time they said this to me, in love they said, I cringed. My inner voice
said, "Run Norma, speak up Norma, this is Anti-Semitism at its worst, Norma."
But I chose to ignore my voice too many times. This couldn't be true, I
said to myself. These are my dear friends, I said. They love me, I
reiterated again and again. They mean no harm, I said over and over in my
head. But not until that fateful evening of Remembrance of the
atrocities that befell my people, did I come face to face with what my Grandmother said to me when I was a little girl. I too, had assimilated.
My tears are nearly dry now. Every once in a while I still have to wipe them
from streaming down my cheeks. But I have learned something in this
experience. I have learned I am a Jew.
I shall never again forget this is so.
from the September 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine