“Bars of Soap”
By Allen Herman
I am very lucky. Both of my parents and several close members of their immediate families got out of Russia before the Nazi’s arrived.
Most were not that fortunate. My dad’s family was herded, along with other residents of their small town, into a large barn and virtually burned alive. Those that attempted to escape were mowed down by machine gun fire. My mother’s family ended up in several death camps. Very few survived. Those that did attempted to come to America. The few that were given the green light ended up in our small crowded row home on “C” Street in the Feltonville section of Philadelphia.
While I was very young and remember very little of what occurred, I do remember seeing the numbers tattooed on their arms and the fact that they seldom smiled and often appeared to be daydreaming. Some were very “combative” and ultimately, to my father’s relief and with my mother’s assistance, moved to New Haven where one or two other relatives were discovered. Except for the tattoos, the only thing I remember clearly about those days long past was my Cousin Clara waking up screaming many nights.
It wasn’t until I was older that I understood both the Holocaust and the damage that haunted my surviving relatives. While I understood that what had occurred was the culmination of centuries of Anti-Semitism in Europe I would be less than honest if I told you that I did not single out the Germans to despise … here and in Europe.
I listened to the news and read the papers endlessly. I cheered every disaster, every flood, forest fire, riot, avalanche, every auto accident and anything else terrible that befell the total German nation. No horror satisfied my desire for revenge. I wished them the worst.
I could not understand how such horrendous evil could exist in any human in any part of the world. To speak hatefully was one thing but to act out such hatred was incomprehensible. How, I wondered, could these people commit such horrible atrocities? In my mind Germany and the Germans were the devils who prayed to Satan and hated the Lord above.
That mindset remained with me until I was in my mid thirties. Then I discovered, while studying at Villanova University that my thesis on Student Disturbance and Unrest was to be published by the United Nations Educational Yearbook. I was also invited to be a guest speaker at a series of educational seminars in Jerusalem. I was thrilled.
Fearing a traffic jam on either the Jersey Turnpike or the Belt Parkway in New York, I left for New York and the some nine hours ahead of the scheduled flight to Israel to make my presentation. I sat in Kennedy Airport for some five hours before flying. My excitement was beyond description. The flight itself lasted almost eleven hours. When I arrived, despite the thrill and the adrenalin rush, I was exhausted.
I headed immediately to my hotel room, a hot shower and a good night’s sleep. Imagine my total shock when I discovered the bar of soap in the shower had been manufactured in Germany. Talk about irony!
For four weeks I rushed from classroom to lecture hall to sightseeing. I visited just about every Jewish, Catholic and Muslim tourist and religious site I could find. I sped from the mountains that separated Israel from Syria up to the holy city of Safat and the Dead Sea, to the Sinai Desert and on to Elat. What a great country, what great views, what great history, what
As I darted back and forth, eyes agog and mind racing, I couldn’t help but notice the number of Mercedes and German appliances I saw. Clothing, suitcases, refrigerators, washing machines and hospital equipment – all with German markings. Finally, not quite understanding what I saw, I asked several of my hosts. Why would they purchase product from such a nation… especially as Jews in a Jewish nation?
Their answer was complex, yet it was quite simple. They stated openly that much of what I saw was purchased with monies paid for by the German government to the survivors and their estates. And life, they continued, went on. They still did not forget and they still found it very hard to forgive. But life goes on and they couldn’t blame today’s youth for the sins of their fathers. Young people, all people, need to learn from their past so that history is not repeated… anywhere! But to condemn future generations was wrong
Flying home from Israel the plane was dark. Most people were exhausted and welcomed the opportunity to grab some much needed sleep. I just sat there in my tiny space in the crowded Boeing 707 reflecting more on my “views” than what I had viewed. I finally came to accept that the past was the past. It could not be changed only learned from. As much as I found what happened – to my people and my family – unforgettable and unforgivable, it was time to move on.
The Holocaust is a shameful part of Germany’s past and the Nation appears to be doing everything possible through funding, politics, educational forums and programs to help both the victims and the State of Israel. Unlike the Japanese, who, to this day, refuse to acknowledge their war crimes… Germany faced them squarely. Like their Jewish victims, most find what happened unforgivable and want to make sure that it’s not forgotten. Unlike England and the state of Tennessee they have not buckled to Muslim pressures to even discuss the Holocaust in their school systems.
I use all of the above as an introduction to my real purpose in writing this piece. I believe it is time for African Americans, painful as it may be, to also move on. I know that the issue is both controversial and inflammatory but it must be discussed. To avoid discussion out of fear or intimidation is nothing more than the elimination of freedom of speech which all Americans hold so dear. Discussion is not automatic racism nor is it an automatic preamble for hatred or biased comments.
The African American community needs to move on. Slavery was a two hundred year horror. It should never have happened. Nor should it be continuing today in parts of Africa. To capture people, break up families, move people to foreign places and continents was and remains a tragedy. To sell people, force them to re-populate and all of the other things that happened is unimaginable. It is also unforgivable. To continue to have practiced such behavior and practices in America after the Civil War with the help of Jim Crow Laws and organizations like the KKK for another hundred years is even more unacceptable. To not allow people to maximize their human potential is a tragedy for both the victim and the oppressor. Both suffer.
But America has owned up to its past. It has passed law after law to rectify what was bad. In fact, in may ways the pendulum has swung, in my opinion, far past center. Our nation, starting with Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman and certainly President Johnson, and our individual states have enacted legislation and policies that have bent over backwards to atone for and correct what was done.
Hey… it “ain’t perfect” but it has gone a long way to correct and improve what was wrong. Yes, just as Germany has some skinheads, America still has bigots. Regrettably, we still have people who hold unacceptable views and practice some unacceptable practices. Some, to be honest, are black.
But these people are far from the majority. In fact I don’t even think they are a major minority. Skinheads and “xxxxheads” are no longer an excuse for African Americans or Jewish Americans or ANY Americans to not own up to its own deficiencies. Blacks are good athletes, musicians and doctors. They have become judges, Senators, Members of the House of Representatives, governors, mayors, police chiefs and so much more. The President of the United States is black. African Americans have proven themselves to be accomplished scientists, lawyers, fathers, scholars, next door neighbors and soldiers. They are charitable and religious.
Most, like any group, are good people. To say otherwise would be a disgrace and untrue. But they, like others, also make great thieves, murderers, criminals, and lousy … sometimes dishonest… politicians. One of the biggest threats to most blacks in America today is they’re being victims of crime… mainly committed by other blacks. Young black males in America are being killed by other young black males far faster than they are by the police… white or black.
In truth, the black community has an inordinate amount of violence and breakdowns in the family. Too many of their young are still heading for the basketball court instead of the science lab. Much of their community is practicing reverse bigotry in the voting booth and to deny such, would also be a disgrace.
When Abe Fortas was removed from the Supreme Court and the Rosenbergs were convicted of spying I did not hear Jews in America scream Anti-Semitism. Most yelled, as they did at Bernie Madoff, “Shame on you! You are a disgrace and you disgraced OUR community.” I heard almost no one complain of Anti-Semitism
It is time for the African American community to learn from this. I know, I know. To say what I have just said, so openly, invites the charge “bigotry.” This is nonsense and harms all involved. To say any of the above is simply stating what you see when you watch the news on TV. To not say such out of fear is harmful to all involved. Constructive criticism can be a very positive thing. And I again say, to my fellow citizens in the African American community, it is time to move on. And, it is time to not be afraid to say this… regardless one’s color.
It is time to stop throwing the race card and its automatic judgement of guilt. Blame often should be viewed in one’s own mirror.
I believe that many in the African American community have a right to be somewhat skeptical of some police. And I also believe recent episodes in Baltimore, Cleveland is indeed troubling. It is as much, if not more so, a wake up call just as the bar of German soap I saw in a Jerusalem shower stall.
But to make a hero of a young man who stole from a store and then physically attacked the owner is preposterous. To make a twenty-two time arrested and convicted man a martyr is just unbelievable. To accuse police of 2nd degree murder and refuse their lawyers the right to review the autopsy results is also unbelievable. It is time the community take a deep breath… a very deep breath … and finally admit that there are other real problems to face other than those of rabble-rousers like Mr. Sharpton.
I’ve said my piece. I welcome yours…
Your opinions are always welcomed.