Everything, from the mundane (such as, “What’s for dinner?”) to the important (such as whom I’d marry), carried with it a thread of the Holocaust. It isn’t too much to say that the Holocaust was like a member of the family, a bigger, stronger, more powerful member whose presence was always felt. A member that took a whole lot out of each and every one of us.
When I was ten, I couldn’t complain about the major (MAJOR!) mistake I made when I tried to cut my own hair, because at least I wasn’t sent to Auschwitz where my head would be shaved to the point of pain and bleeding. When I was fourteen, I was told I couldn’t complain about the pains of having a younger, clingy, eight-year-old sister, because…well, you know, I was lucky to have a sister who wasn’t sent to the gas chamber.
When I was in high school, I lied to my parents, telling them that a boyfriend whose last name was “Isaacs” was Jewish, when I knew full well he wasn’t. Meanwhile, by that point, my parents believed they’d safely deposited me into a Jewish day school, complete with Jewish History classes and of course, all Jewish classmates.
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When I was a freshman in college, I couldn’t talk about any friends or—gasp!—any boyfriends who weren’t Jewish, because, of course, only fellow Jews could be relied upon and trusted.
When I was in my early twenties and starting to make my own way in the world, I knew that failure or even stumbling was not an option, because my grandparents endured and survived so that I could go on and be wildly successful at everything I did. So I didn’t tell my family how wrong my big ad agency job was for me or how uncertain I was about my future.
Later, when I started to talk to other 3Gs, oftentimes I heard the same variations of this story over and over: “You can’t be sick! You have the sniffles? I survived Auschwitz!” Or, “You don’t cry when you lose a baseball game. You cry when you lose a brother in the camps.”
I began to make it a full-time job to sweep imperfection or uncertainty under the rug. I showed my best hand, so to speak, when asked about my life or a particular situation. I was full-on operating in my very controlling and controlled, very-well-thought-out brand of perfectionism, and I was perfecting even that.