In past interviews with Syd, he has said that he has chosen feeding the needy because of his own family’s near-starvation during the Holocaust.
For the past several years in my work with Tibet, I have been surrounded by those who have been directly impacted by modern-day genocide and oppressive fascist regimes; they have lost husbands, family members and friends, or been illegally detained in forced labor camps. Syd’s email this morning was about an event 69 years ago today — the questions and ‘what ifs?’ are as fresh today as they were then.
Here is Syd’s email:
So it has come around again June 8. To celebrate or to mourn?
On June 8th 1942, the town of Szczckowa, Poland had a selection of who would live and who would die. Families were lined up and a military doctor pointed to the left or to the right. My mother Lena, at 15 was small. Her brother Morris was 17, her sister Regina was 19. Joseph was 12 and David 11. Solomon was was born in 1900 and was 41 and Paula was born in 1898 was 43.
Two years in the towns ghetto had reduced everyone’s size and health. Solomon, Regina and Morris were selected to go to a line of people who looked healthier in comparison to the other line which had more senior people and mothers with babies and young children on their arm. Joseph was as tall as Lena and when the selection came, he went with his mother. So did Lena.
Regina, the oldest saw this and had read the horrible truth. She ran to Lena and told her and Joseph to come with her, as David was very small. Joseph refused to leave his mother and Regina dragged Lena with her.
They had been an upper middle class family before the terrible war, living in Germany before they were uprooted to Poland. The defiant act of my Aunt Regina saved a future generation. So part of me must celebrate the miracle. The other part of me still shakes his fist at the heavens.
Later that day, the line of mothers and their babies and children, grandmothers and fathers and grandfathers were ushered into cattle cars and taken the 20 miles to the Auschwitz/Bierkineau death camp. They were sent to make-believe showers, handed wooden bars of soap and gassed to death. They were cremated, burned in ovens next door. They, for all practical purposes, disappeared.
This inhumane practice took place every day for years until the end of the war, an attempt to destroy a people, a genus, a culture. My mother still feels guilty 69 years later. She is still haunted by the events of this date, June 8th.
I was born 8 years after this selection. I always ask why there are not more think tanks which fight poverty, disease, social ills? How many more Rock and Wrap it Up!s could have been formulated by the children of those who were murdered? There is no answer.
I just need to wake up on the anniversary of this date every year and decide to celebrate or mourn. As I get older, I find myself forcing to feel celebratory on the miracle on my Aunt’s quick thinking. June 8th is the real birth of everything related to my existence and my family.
It is also the death of so much what could have been.
Photo credit: Syd Mandelbaum (with parents in 1951)