Several months have passed since I met a sweet older lady on the Light Rail train to Denver International Airport. She was a Holocaust survivor.
She sought in me a “friendly stranger”. I was happy to listen to her story.
Part of being a friendly stranger is the mutual agreement that no names are exchanged. Even in my imagination, I have never thought to assign her a name.
She was very small and thin, elegantly dressed in a travel suit with matching hat, gloves and shoes. I am not a fashionable person myself, but I admire women who are so nicely put together. It’s classy.
She confessed to being very sad. It distressed her to see that concentration camps had returned to America. She had hoped the interment of Japanese citizens would have taught a lesson for the ages, but it hadn’t turned out that way. She had seen the stories of children in cages at the border, and her heart was aching for them.
She told me how she and her sister had been separated from their parents and put in a work camp. She didn’t say where, and I didn’t ask.
She told me they assumed their parents had been killed. At any rate, they never saw them again.
She showed me her dentures; she’d lost most of her teeth while imprisoned, due to malnutrition.
She told me how children had been forced by guards to remove dead bodies when someone in the camp died. Then, with no chance for mourning, and no burial services, people were sent back to work.
She didn’t tell me the details of gaining freedom, but she did tell me that she and her sister finally made it to America. The Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave, she said, and you could hear in her inflection the capitalization of the words.
Soon afterward, her sister died of tuberculosis. She had never managed to regain all her strength, and the illness took her quickly.
While she mourned the loss of her sister, she still threw herself into a life of hard work and grasped the American dream: marriage, family, meaningful work, a home and friends.
Now, nearing the end of a long and mostly happy life in this land of dreams, she was disillusioned to see things changing. She was afraid for her children and their children. Indeed, she was afraid for all children in this country.
So am I.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. I don’t believe my little acquaintance was at Auschwitz–she called the place a “work camp” and spoke of people dying from being over-worked and underfed. But I have no way of knowing for sure, and it doesn’t even matter. She survived the Holocaust and found a new life in the America foreigners dream of.
Today, I am saddened to realize a distressing fact: that America no longer exists. It has been replaced by a country full of hate and fear, and her people have become targets in a place that promised refuge. True, it’s not only her people who are targeted, but it is her people I am focusing on today.
This day, the day when the survivors at Auschwitz were liberated, is the day chosen to remind us all that the Holocaust happened. It is not “fake news”, or a rumor or a hoax. It was a harsh and cruel reality for too many souls, and for too long.
One day to remind us? Alright.
But for me, since meeting that lovely, impeccably dressed stranger on a train, every day is a day to remember where we could be headed and what could happen to any of us if we don’t stand up for what is right.
Remember every day. Please.
(By the way, if you’d like to read my first account about meeting this woman, you can find it here:
Refusing to Call Polka Dots “Stripes”