I was brought up to understand that you were never to speak ill of, and you were never ever to judge, the Jewish people.
I dated a Jewish boy in high school and one evening his grandmother told me she would never let her grandson marry a dirty shikse like me. I knew she was right because even though my dad was a first generation German Jew, my mom was an Episcopalian. And of course my boyfriend’s grandmother had been in a concentration camp so she was allowed to say anything, especially to me who was not a member of the tribe.
A number of my dad’s friends had been hidden children or in concentration camps, and Ellen was one of them. She came over, like most of his friends, every Saturday for dinner, a grand cooked-at-home-by-everyone dinner, the apartment full of arguments and food smells and people sitting around reading books or talking.
My girlfriend lived down the street and her dad was German. One Saturday he came by for dinner but Ellen was very unkind to him, berating him for not having done something to stop the Nazis. Finally it got so bad he simply had to leave. There was nothing else he could do.
The next day I was at my girlfriend’s house and her dad brought out a big picture book. He opened it and showed me images of German cities after the war. There were ragged fields of walls standing tenuously at different heights and lengths. The spiky remains of corners higher than the lengths of stone and plaster. Piles of rubble stood among the building remains and the landscape was dotted with familiar household objects. My friend’s father pointed to a stone wall with the remains of a window sill in it. He told me that was where his bedroom had been. He had only been a boy during the war and his father was a postman, who didn’t vote for Hitler.
Until that moment it had never occurred to me that there were any casualties of World War Two other than the Jews.