The horrors of the Holocaust are well known to most of us. The statistics, anyway. Six million Jewish people murdered by the Nazis. One-quarter of them, children. Many more were also killed, including disabled people, gays, Polish people, and prisoners of war.
It’s almost unfathomable, that level of evil. Even after all of these years, the trials, the first-hand accounts – the evidence left behind. Some tiny human brains have so much trouble wrapping their heads around it that they deny it happened. But that’s a story for another day.
What would life have been like if your parents were survivors? First, you’d be a miracle. Proof of the human spirit. Exhibit A in the showcase of Nazi failures. You made it, despite their best efforts to exterminate all Jews. You’re a lottery winner just by virtue of your birth. But there’s a cloud of darkness hanging over the house. Stories of eluding people who wanted to kill your parents – and would have killed you – KILLED YOU – because of your religion and culture. A mixture of, holy shit we survived, and, you think that’s something to cry about?
This is what Marsha Lederman writes about in her excellent book, Kiss the Red Stairs. You might know Marsha as a former broadcaster, or as a writer for the Globe and Mail.
G2: Holocaust Survivors, Once Removed
Marsha explores how being a child of Holocaust survivors shaped her life as she navigates a heartbreaking divorce, raises her son, and tries to answer the questions she forgot – like so many of us do – to ask her parents. The answers are in Poland, at Holocaust museums, and even in a film that her Mother participated in years before her death. Her mother survived five long years as a slave labourer in Poland. She and hundreds of others were being marched to their deaths when they were freed by US soldiers. Marsha’s Dad survived by assuming a new identity and taking a job on a farm. Details of this time come late in the book, and they’re delightful.
As she dissects what her parents downloaded to her from their experiences, Marsha is keenly aware that she wants to do things differently for her son. There has to be a way to remember and never repeat the Holocaust without turning children into dark worrywarts. They’re safe. The reemergence of Nazis during the last US President’s administration is worrying, yes, and we’re all keeping a watchful eye. Jews have allies. We’re not afraid. And let’s face it, Nazis are a fringy little group with no power or standing. They’re not a freely elected government that lied about its mission to get votes.
Kiss the Red Stairs is meticulously researched, but it’s not quite a history book. A memoir, but not entirely that, either. It’s about the Holocaust’s effect now, today, with acknowledgement of other genocides and horrors in this world. And the influence they have had on subsequent generations who are doing their best to honour the past, but also look toward a brighter future.
Just a Shtickle Jewish
I was delighted to discover, via a DNA test, that I have 2.2% Ashkenazi Jew DNA. Someone, somewhere along my family tree likely loved someone Jewish. My mom’s parents came from Poland. They were Catholic. Both are long gone and there’s no other family connection to consult. A little bit of Jewishness in my genetic code is a mystery that pleases me. It would be silly for me to try to say I’m Jewish, but this knowledge warms my heart.