I was the late-life child of a late-life child. My father was 48 when I was born. His father was, as far as I can tell, around 40, in what is now Belarus, when his seventh child, my father, was born. I feel as though my roots are deep.
That may help explain the importance I attach to today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Birkenau-Auschwitz concentration-camp complex. My father, born in 1898 in a small, swampy shtetl (Jewish village) called Shereshov, left everything he knew at the age of 23 and reached the United States aboard the SS Finland. He became a citizen in 1929, using the Americanized name Jack Pine. In the Old Country, he had been Yankel Yussel Pinsky.
Some of my father’s siblings had left the difficult life in Shereshov before him, but his parents and two siblings remained. They thought they could survive the waves of violence against Jews as Poland and Russia (or the UUSR) took turns occupying their land. They had no idea what was about to happen as the Nazis took power in Germany and attempted to build a Jew-free worldwide empire.
Although I long ago rejected Judaism as my religion and never felt comfortable with Zionism, I am proud of my Jewish cultural heritage. It has helped be understand, and be sensitive to, genocide. Born in 1946, I never got to meet:
- My Uncle Leibel Pinsky, gassed in Auschwitz in February 1943.
- My Aunt Sheina Pinsky (nee Kantorovitz), gassed with her husband, Leibel.
- My Aunt Chashke Kantorovitz (nee Pinsky), shot to death in October 1942 by the Nazis.
- My Uncle Reuben Kantorovitz, shot to death with his wife, Chashke.
- My first cousin, Leah Pinsky, gassed at the age of 21 with her parents, Leibel and Sheina.
- My first cousin, Shalom Pinsky, gassed at the age of 15 with his parents, Leibel and Sheina.
- My first cousin, Michla Kantorovitz, shot to death at the age of 17 with her parents, Reuben and Chashke.
- My first cousin, Shalom Kantorovitz, shot to death at the age of 14 with his parents, Reuben and Chashke.
- My first cousin, Shevach Kanterovitz, shot to death at the age of 8 with his parents, Reuben and Chashke.
Those were my closest relatives killed in the holocaust, but of course there were many more. If you looked closely at the list, you probably figured out that my father’s brother and sister married a brother and sister named Kantorovitz. Uncle Reuben had a nephew named Maishe, who lived through five concentration camps and several death marches determined to live to tell the stories of everyone from Shereshov. It’s thanks to his documentation that I know what I do about the relatives left behind by my father , who died in 1958, when I was 11.
They are all my respected teachers. I mourn their violent deaths, but I attempt to honor their memory by living with love and compassion and never considering anyone inferior to me.
From the eight verses of Lojong:
Wherever I go, with whomever I go, may I see myself as less than all others, and from the depth of my heart may I consider them supremely precious.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
NOTE: See a followup to this post here.
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine