There were two parallel worlds simultaneously coexisting in our home, in our lives. We lived in a big house on a wide, quiet street in a suburb with a well-regarded name. We had luxury cars in the driveway, and we were usually among the first to have the latest “must-haves” from an Atari to a VHS player to HBO. Yet, no matter how successful my father was in business or how many fur coats my mom possessed (this was the ’80s, remember), we always, always had these totally familiar, but, let’s face it, weird books and conversations going on inside our walls. We had the never-ending “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality on one hand, and yet, at least some of us were still one degree removed from Auschwitz on the other.
Regular, everyday conversation had almost too many little, Holocaust-related mentions or inclusions that, now, remind me of the significant juxtaposition of everyday-ness and pure horror: “That German Shepherd the neighbor was walking reminds me of the dogs Mengele had with him on the platform at Auschwitz.” Or, “Your eyes look like my sister’s. Did you know that after my mother sent her away before the war, we never saw her again?” To this day, I cannot eat a baked potato without my grandmother’s voice in my head saying, “Alkele, ” [her loving nickname for me, roughly translated to mean “little Allie”] she would say, “I risked my life to steal potatoes in the ghetto. I had no choice. I knew I had to come back with something for my brother.”
I wasn’t there when it all happened, but I was immersed in it.
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