Me in the Village
I knew Lily was a Holocaust survivor, just as many facts and rumors circulate in small villages. I really wanted her opinion on the things I had read about and the insights I had gained regarding my renewed interest in the Holocaust. I considered her input to be incredibly important and valid, coming from someone who had experienced it firsthand.
I was in for a surprise that changed my perspective on many things, in various fields of life...not just the Holocaust, which, for me, appears today as the outcome of the cruelest circumstances modern humanity has ever encountered – an "extreme test case scenario" with results too difficult to fully comprehend.
So, when the timing felt right, I approached her. I told her I had many questions about the beginning of the state of Israel – a nation that had remained trapped in the diaspora for far too long, emerging from the ashes to establish its sovereignty.
Lily said I could ask her anything I wanted, and if she knew the answer, she would be glad to share her knowledge with me. She even said I could visit her whenever I wanted, and if she was home, we could discuss various topics over a cup of coffee.
I had just finished reading about Hannah Arendt's article in the New York Times titled "The Banality Of Evil" and had read about the reactions in the streets in Israel. I wanted firsthand testimony.
"Lily," I began, "here's the first question I have: Do you remember during Eichmann's trial the whole controversy around Hannah Arendt's description of Eichmann as a small bureaucratic official, and her realization that his actions were a manifestation of 'The Banality of Evil'?"
"I wonder what your thoughts were about it. Did you relate to her point? Or if not, how did her words affect you?"
It was a long question, spanning a wide range of topics with many facets. Her answer surprised me, much like the French line at Maginot.
"Who was Hannah Arendt?..." she asked. "I've never heard anything about what you just mentioned, but maybe it happened," then she continued "But I knew Eichmann. He used to visit the camp. Everyone knew it was him with the black coat and hat. His plan was to eliminate us all as fast and efficiently as possible."
With all my profound sympathy, love and respect for Lily, I wish to express two points with careful consideration:
A. I am pretty sure that many high-ranking Nazi officials wore similar horrifying coats and hats, and and I can't imagine any Jewish prisoner walking up and asking for his ID to verify... I can imagine terror, fear, hysteria and rumours much easier. The thought of the terror involved is chilling. I doubt anyone dared to raise their eyes or truly had the opportunity to witness Eichmann.
B. I have extracted a more extensive life lesson from this case – being a victim unquestionably involves enduring suffering, yet it doesn't automatically grant expertise in that domain. If someone becomes ensnared in a fraudulent land purchase scheme...it doesn't miraculously turn him a real estate expert in addition to their victimhood to theft. The same principle applies here.
It's quite likely that many individuals remain unaware of the complete magnitude of what unfolded; they were merely caught up in the chaos, frequently against their will and at times even without consciousness.
For what ever reason which might deter people from learning their important lessons of those dark times, I think subtle engagement is key for every voice to find it's tone.
This was a classic-awkward moment: it happened on a Saturday, and I was grilling outside when she walked by during her daily walk.
She paused beside me and started talking about various things. At some point, I realized she had transitioned to discussing the smell she recalled from the chimneys of Auschwitz (???). I needed to really verify this is happening... to be sure this is happening right now, as I am flipping those hotdogs and steak.
What later struck me was her utter casualness. Her tone remained unchanged, moving from one sentence to another... but at that moment I was left facing a dilemma – she was so casual in discussing it, so what was the appropriate response I should adopt?... Should I offer her some food from the grill? Should I just say "ready!" turn my back away from her and just walk in with the prepared food? Isn't the reason why people gather around the grill, is to nibble some bit?
I'm aware it's teetering on the edge of being inappropriate, but it was an actual occurrence, and I believe it's important to acknowledge it...It's like going to a memorial and fighting the natural moment in which I feel guilty I am contemplating on what to eat later and where.
I had been searching for a missing piece for my dishwasher, a small tray wheel, for a while. A place in Petach Tiqua offered me the piece for 200 NIS, roughly 50$. That seemed incredibly expensive, not to mention the hour-long drive and parking costs involved.
The temptation to try eBay had been lingering for some time, and this was the moment I decided to give it a shot. I found a set of all 18 wheels in a used-brand new condition and had them shipped to me through a courier from London, directly to my doorstep, all for less than 50$.
When the wheels arrived, I met Lily and shared my adventure with her. Her response stunned me: "Well, did you expect a Jew to miss the opportunity to make money off you?"
I...I...I was utterly speechless. Regardless of whether the person in London was Jewish or not, it was more about the way she said it, as if it were an indisputable fact.
Coming from her, of all people, it was truly astonishing. 🌻
When my son turned 5, I mentioned the occasion to her as she passed by the house. "I don't like kids after the age of 5," she bluntly stated. Simple and unapologetic.
When I inquired why 5 and not 4, 6, or even 14, she responded that until the age of 5, children are sweet and endearing. However, as they grow older, they gradually learn to say what others want to hear, using their words to manipulate situations and get their way. She expressed her dislike for this kind of dishonest behavior.
I'm not sure this is true...after all - sweet Lily was well beyond 5... and yet continued to express her unfiltered thoughts, still saying exactly what ever was on her mind...
The last story I have is quite "funny," or another one of those bizarre situations that I found myself in, especially during the actual event. It was in the midst of winter. The landlord, Lily's son, was heading to Europe for the weekend and asked me to look after things in case the compound's electricity failed during the anticipated storm.
The procedure was straightforward. The key was kept in the large dog's cage. From there, I needed to navigate around our flats across Lily's terrace, into the muddy field situated just behind Lily's flat, heading to the generator room. Once there, all I had to do was flip a few switches back to the "on" position. No problem at all.
It was Friday, just before midnight, and the storm was raging. Then it happened – the entire compound, which included five flats and several offices, went pitch black and silent, revealing the howling wind and storm outside the safe warm flat. I was prepared. Donning my storm suit and boots suitable for wading through mud, clutching a torch, I ventured out into the turmoil, on my way to another mission in the cold weather. I can do this.
I retrieved the key from the dog's cage and set off, negotiating the water puddles, edging closer to Lily's porch. From a distance, I spotted her sitting outside in her comfortable rocking chair, cocooned beneath thick blankets. A few candles cast a warm glow on the window sill behind her. The rain had momentarily ceased, and the only sounds were the drops of water trickling from the trees and the distant rustling of the wind, as if the earth were endeavoring to soak up the deluge. Amid this, it was mainly my footsteps in the water and gravel that were generating the noise...
THEN IT STRUCK ME!!!
Heading for the storm
I am about to cross over Lily's terrace, coming in from the dark, disturbing her silent contemplation, coming in from the storm...wearing my storm suit, its lower part tucked into my boots... I wasn't going to be the one testing her associations nor trauma, not interested in finding out what could happen! Would she freakout? Will she scream surrendering to the Nazis who finally found her? Will she call for her son in vain? Now that her son is away and not there to protect her, will she faint in-front of my eyes?
Could she, god forbid, get her final cardiac arrest, on MY SHIFT????? Ending her glorious life due to some shmuck walking in with this Nazi costume? ...I had to think fast! - I can think fast, but the results I come too...suggest I should think slower...
but now - I needed to act fast, since I am 3 seconds from her steps, can't stop my march into the stage...and I was concerned she is about to see Eichman again...
THINK THINK THINK!!!
And there I was - what could I possibly do to give the most opposite impression to my single audience sitting quietly, about to watch the show...
I got it! I will sing!
I immediately thought of that old, immensely popular Israeli-Jewish pioneering song... you know, the one about the barns brimming with crops, the wineries teeming with wine, houses echoing with the laughter of babies, and our livestock thriving and fruitful...
And so, I proceeded. The plan was clear – choosing a song that likely held no familiarity for any Nazi, ensuring it wouldn't trigger any distressing associations for her. I confidently strode forward, offering a nod of acknowledgment to her, much like any fellow pioneer would, heading out into the pitch-black night toward the muddy field.
Indeed, it was a well-executed plan, if I must say so myself.
NOW- Before you press the link below to enjoy the song, give a second to imagine the pitch dark midnight, windy and wet, and as you imagine my singing with a loud baritone walking in like a cowboy in his queue.
Enjoy the smile! I feel I deserve it, and therefor so do you.
It helps the sadness go down easier...like chocolate coating...(The princess bride)
Now hit the link hahaha.
Now you, if you've reached all the way down here.. Do you remember any awkward moments, which you realised at some point the comic relief they obtained? Please feel free to add in the comments below let's share, and hopefully the comments will add up with time!