• 19 April 2023: Eightieth Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

    To read a clear and comprehensive account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that began on April 19, 1943, Passover eve that year, go to https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/warsaw-ghetto-uprising.

    I visited the monument in Warsaw years ago, in the wake of WWII, when the city was largely in ruins, though the historic Old Town had been rebuilt and a newly erected “birthday cake”-style concrete government building, the Palace of Culture, loomed high. My father took my family of five—mother, two brothers, and me—along for two months there while he worked for the United Nations as an engineering consultant for the Communist government.

    It was grim. We were instructed to keep our mouths shut about the virtues of democracy or the dearth of food supplies compared with our bounty in the United States. People walked down the streets with visible war injuries: missing limbs, facial features. Some would stop us wanting to change their zlotys into dollars and others would vociferously complain about the constant procession of wars in their country and yes, about the current governmental system. I admired their courage.

    We visited the museum at Auschwitz. I remember more details than those at the Ghetto monument: a sign “Work leads to freedom” (Arbeit macht frei) at the entrance; a gallows; glass cases filled with shoes and other personal effects; a large, hollow gas chamber.

    Here are some fragments of a poem I wrote about that experience:

    Thin dry wind,

    Sun burning, aching, glaring;

    Barbed-wire fence

    —the power’s off now, the power’s off now, the power’s off now.

    Barbed-wire fence, the power’s off now;

    Handful of visitors,



    Arbeit macht frei!

    Welcome to prisons

    and concrete chambers with smokestacks!

    Smoke that was people met air that was clear.

    Met air that was clear, met air that was clear!

    Smoke that was people met air that was clear.

    Handful of visitors, 



    Museum of millions

    A handful now bear—


    I was there.


    My paternal great-grandmother and great aunt were killed at Auschwitz, as were my maternal great grandparents and one of their daughters with her husband and three children.

    In the latter case, my great uncle went to the tiny village outside of Bialystock, Poland, to plead with them to migrate to the US as he had along with another sibling, my grandmother—the youngest sister had gone to Israel. They dismissed his warnings, sure that the toxic prejudices would pass.

    My paternal grandfather was kidnapped by Nazis on Krystallnacht and taken to Dachau for forcedlabor. Some wealthy British relatives bribed the Nazis to release him after three months. There is a photo of him emaciated after that ordeal. He survived for another fifteen years, brought to the US by my father along with his two daughters and wife, all of whom migrated to Los Angeles after afew years in Trenton, NJ.

    Details of life in Nazi-ruled Vienna handed down to me were few. No one wanted to take about them,understandably. My father did tell us of days when his mother would wake them up with the news that there would be nothing to eat for the day. He also warned us children that we might feel secure—just as he did growing up in Vienna freely among Gentiles—he and his eldest sister were both romantically Involved with Christians when they were forced to emigrate.

    Beyond that, my father was grateful for the tolerance in this country and considered it a privilege to pay taxes every year. Sitting comfortably at the head of the dinner table, he would from time to time remind us how lucky we were. He was proud of his meteoric career success here—from hospital orderly when he first emigrated to Brooklyn, sponsored by a well-established relative who’d become a successful radiologist--to world-class HVAC engineer with 29 patented inventions.

    Growing up among first-generation refugees was largely in a xenophobic minor key and I purposely assimilated--though as a teenager haunted with my father’s warnings beseeched close Christian friends to shelter me in the event of a Holocaust. I married a Christian and had a daughter with him. I wanted to dilute, not suppress the painful legacy for her while gently teaching her about her heritage from my side of the family.

    She is fully assimilated and at the same time proud of her immigrant roots and passing them on to her two young daughters. 

    To know how many Holocaust deniers there are and that the numbers are growing; that Trumpism has unearthed latent Nazism into society is disquieting.  I live each day to the fullest and hope for the best. I can’t predict the future but if one thing is clear, it is that lessons from the past are forgotten and buried like the bones of slaughtered Jews and all others who have perished as a result of holocausts and other manmade violence all over the world.