Let me start with a disclaimer. I have relatives who have been avid obituary readers. I’m not among them. Maybe if you’re Jerry Lewis or Glenn Campbell I’ll indulge in the last celebration of your life. But if you don’t warrant a full newspaper page, I’ve no time to spare for your death. Life’s too short. (I do indulge in the guilty pleasure of reading the longer marriage announcements. I’m a sucker for chance meetings and corny proposals.)
But if I see the word Holocaust, I’m instantly drawn as if by a magnet. For us Baby Boomer Jews, the Holocaust, Israel, and Soviet Jewry were the ties that bound. Persecution begets unity.
On October 3, 2017, Zuzana Ruzickova died, her passing commemorated in a short entry in the New York Times. She was a harpsichordist, who accomplished the huge project of recording all of Bach’s works for keyboard. Before Ruzickova ever entered a recording studio, however, the Jewish Ruzickova was transported by the Nazis to Terezin and then Auschwitz. She escaped the gas chambers on two occasions, first by lying about her age and then because the D-day landing disrupted regular concentration camp operations. During her years in concentration camps, Ruzickova carried with her a hidden, handwritten fragment of Bach’s music. What a wonderful act of defiance. How incredible to preserve a shred of a cultural monument that she could bring forth for solace and strength amid constant death.
With neo-Nazis emerging like cockroaches out of the wood-work, I absently began to think about what item I would take had I been in Ruzickova’s shoes.
Would it be a family picture, folded and refolded, crushed and hidden in a sock? No, I don’t usually take photos. My memories have always been enough.
Would it be a book? While it would be lovely to have something to read, a book wouldn’t make the cut either. I can’t think of any book that has for me the life-affirming qualities that Bach had for Ruzickova. There’s too many to choose from. And a book is too big to hide.
Would it be a Mets logo? I have two Mets T-shirts, two Mets sweatshirts, a Mets cooler, a Mets drawstring bag, and a Mets cap. I ordered a Mets onesie for my grandbaby the day after she was born to nip in the bud any alternative allegiances. Although I typically attend only a game a year, I watch or listen to at least two-thirds of the games. I visit the leading blogs, including the minor league ones, eyeball the twitter feed, and glance at multiple newspapers for any grain of news. I bleed blue and orange, but I wouldn’t take a Mets logo with me to the camps.
The words that incised themselves into my soul decades ago appear in the header of the opening chapter of Lucy Dawidowitz’s The War Against The Jews: “Wear the yellow star with pride,” was the injunction of one Holocaust victim. Embrace what you’re hated for. So what I’d take to the Holocaust is the little gold mezuzah that I’ve worn around my neck for more than four decades. Preceded by multiple Jewish stars, it was given to me by my mother as I neared my teens. It was replaced with an identical one a dozen years later after the original fell from its chain and has only been removed for childbirths and other medical procedures. What they hate, I take pride in. A mezuzah reminds us of our covenant with God, our obligation to be moral human beings. Nothing would be surer to recall me to myself. You want to hate me, too bad.