I hope you and your loved ones had the best holiday season and that you are enjoying the beginning of the year 2019. All new beginnings are exciting and can be a little scary at times.
What is scary to me is something that has been on my mind as of late.
This world we live in is changing in ways some of us don’t like and it is making us feel uneasy. We hear disturbing news from many countries including our own.
Most people don’t want that dark time of humanity repeated from World War II.
Members of my father’s family lost their lives in Auschwitz during World War II. He was captured as a teenager and held for four years in a similar camp in Hungary. He was severely beaten and survived the daily hard labor, with very little or no food. He was able to escape towards the end of the War. He was one of the lucky ones. Just a few years after he returned to Yugoslavia, he met my mom and they started the family.
As a result of my father’s experience of losing virtually all his family, he had the strong desire to use his unfortunate history and deep pain in order to effect changes in the future generation. He knew it would be an impossible task to change the world, but he started from his home where he helped my sister and me learn from the holocaust. He understood and knew that a lot could be done if humans change the vocabulary they use to describe things. He had that courage. My dad couldn’t change the past but sought to influence the future in the most positive way. His passion was born and arose right from his deepest sorrow and his personal loss.
He repeated to me many times “Nada, you have to be able to understand and differentiate between the German policy during World War II and German people. Please stop and think about what I just said. Not everyone agreed with Hitler’s policy. He had tremendous power and was dangerous for every citizen that was not on his side. Some had to join Hitler to save their lives and we can’t blame them. Some stayed quiet and even risked their lives using their basements to hide Jewish families. Please remember that there were German people risking their lives to save the lives of others. Never confuse and generalize German fascist policy with German innocent people during those dark times.” My dad’s words and everything I just heard were all fascinating to me and very powerful.
All of it made sense to me. I could feel in my heart that this is the truth and understood that I just learned a big lesson for life.
“Nada, all humans are the same”. Another amazing thought started and I listened knowing I was going to witness greatness.
“Regardless of where we live and what we look like and regardless of our beliefs, we all want happiness, health, prosperity and love for ourselves and our children. It is that simple my dear child”. I could sense my dad’s passion to change the world.
He would often stand up from his armchair to emphasize the importance of his massage and speak from the middle of the living room. His voice was soft and kind but penetrating. He wanted to be understood. He hoped to reach the farthest corners of my soul. He hoped that one day, I could teach my children the same lessons. Being only a little girl at that time, I couldn’t say I understood his message in its entirety. I felt I was hearing something big.
My mother would hear us talk and I could tell that she had a hard time understanding where my father was coming from. She never joined the conversation. “How can you” … she would walk by us with the bucket of water going to the balcony to water her plants. Mom would not slowdown in her steps. Her voice would whisper almost talking to herself and at the same time wanted us to hear her. Her head would shake gently in disbelief of my father’s words. She struggled with my father’s perspective.
How can anyone blame her? After such a big tragedy that shook the entire world, how can one find courage to understand and not hate? The wounds are as sharp and as deep as when they were inflicted twenty years prior. How to heal and move on in the new world in a better way and leave the past behind.
I knew I should listen to my dad. His words meant light, love, peace and I was attracted to that.
Occasionally dad would give my mom the explanation and something to think about: “I have to do this Sima. If I teach my children to hate, the history will repeat. What happened to my family will happen to other families again and again. I want to break the chain of hate. I want my children to learn to love and accept others. I want my children to see goodness in others. That is my mission in this world. If I don’t do this, members of my family and six million Jews lost their lives for no reason. We must learn from this tragedy and make sure it never happens again. The reason I survived is to make this world better.”
These are words that I heard many times in my life. I felt with every part of myself that I am hearing something very important and big. This new vocabulary shaped me forever. I consider this the biggest gift I received from my father. The understanding of what he was teaching me, left me feeling free. It is the freedom of the highest order. I was only twelve years old when he started talking with me about hate and love. I know now he was waiting until I was old enough to understand the tragedy of the holocaust. Also, I think he wanted to capture my pure heart and give me the gift that will keep it pure for life.
Over two decades the idea of love and how to break the chain of hatred was brewing in him daily. The time has come, and he was ready to make a difference in this world. The vision for new generations and the passion to teach love kept him alive. My father had this as his purpose.
“We have to forgive, we need to remember.” He would speak standing up to make his point.” At that time, I didn’t understand fully the true meaning of those words. Now I do.
To teach our children to love one another is the most important gift for their individual lives and the future of humanity. Also, this is that gift that keeps giving long after we are gone from this world.
Now is the best time to start teaching love, acceptance and togetherness.
My father is not among the living any more. I can’t call him and thank him for teaching me that to love I also need courage. Instead I decided to share this story with you in the spirit of his legacy and love that we celebrate this month.
A STORY BY NADA ROTHBART