Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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AUGUST 12, 2012 12:42PM

Hey Holocaust deniers - two people I wish you could meet!

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As many of us know, there has been a sudden upswing in blatant anti-Semitism here on OS.  Generally when people make hateful remarks, especially on a site like this, where most members seem to be open-minded, tolerant people, to say the least, I try not to pay any heed; it seems like that person might only be writing such things to shock and draw attention to themself and their hateful ideology.  I just ignore them and hope that others will do the same.  For that reason, the person who seems to be the source of the anti-Semitic comments will not be mentioned by name here.  I hate even deigning to address what they’re writing about - but I do feel like I need to say something about this, as the descendant and in-law of Holocaust survivors and victims.

My grandfather was a promising artist in his twenties when he and his family were deported to the camps.  Because a Holocaust denier will claim to have heard it all, and won’t believe it anyway, I won’t talk too much about what he endured when he was there, I won’t linger on the fact that most of his family were sent directly to the gas chambers, and were turned to ashes that fell on him as he was worked and starved nearly to death by his captors.  Instead I’ll talk about the man I knew. 

My grandfather was always so gentle with me.  He’d sing me soft songs in his heavily accented voice, and make up silly words as he bounced me on his knee. As I got older, I learned he wasn’t just a funny man who made me laugh.  He was a talented painter and draughtsman who spoke seven languages, and was a great connoisseur of culture, including opera. 

My grandfather worked as a commercial artist in New York City, he had a wife and two sons.  My grandfather also had a number tattooed on his arm.  Though he spoke German, if he ever heard someone yelling in this language, he’d grow nervous. 

One day, he received a letter from a museum in Israel.  Sketches that he and another prisoner had made of their daily life at Auschwitz, had been found in the place they’d hidden them at the camp.  The sketches were now in the museum’s collection, and my grandfather was invited there as a guest of honor.  What recognition for an artist, what an incredible gift for a religious man like my grandfather to be invited to Israel.  And yet, he refused to go.  Despite his intelligence and sophistication, despite the War being long over, he was convinced that this was a Nazi plot to imprison him again. 

Frequently my grandfather would leave the bathroom with a smile on his face.  He’d say to my father, “What a pleasure it is to urinate without pain!”

Though he made good money, my grandfather rarely spent on anything more than the essentials, for himself, and for his family.  He stockpiled goods, terrified that starvation and deprivation would find them.

I sometimes think of the life my grandfather could have had.  Maybe he would have stayed in Poland and become a famous artist.  Instead, when Auschwitz was liberated, he went from a refugee camp, to a new life in the United States, leaving everything behind, desperate to forget.  But Holocaust survivors can’t, unfortunately, become Holocaust deniers.  He married my grandmother, a woman who was kind but difficult, with a brother who loathed him.  He could have travelled and seen the places he’d read and dreamt and heard songs about, but instead he stayed in a drab house in the suburbs, leaving only for work, errands, and local family functions – not even taking vacations.  I cannot imagine anyone choosing to pretend the Holocaust happened, and if my grandfather had chosen to do that for some reason, I cannot imagine that such a pretense would go so far.

My grandfather only talked about what he’d experienced at the concentration camps, towards the end of his life.  He was filmed for several historical societies’ records, including Steven Speilberg’s Shoah project.  Shortly after this, he became a silent, wheelchair-bound man, his blue eyes staring unwaveringly straight ahead.

Many people who deny the Holocaust happened, consider it some sort of Jewish plot.  So I realize that reading about my Jewish grandfather won’t move these people.  But Jews weren’t the only victims of the Holocaust.  You should have met one of my boyfriend’s granduncles, a white Protestant.  He didn’t want to go to work in a German forced labor camp (an obligation many Frenchmen were forced to fulfill during the Occupation), and was imprisoned in a concentration camp instead.  You can’t meet him, though, and neither can I; whatever he saw and suffered in the camp so affected him that he shot himself several years after the War.

It's hard to imagine that those who deny the Holocaust happened, have ever spoken to or closely observed a concentration camp survivor.  The deep knot of suffering in all of them, the numbers branded or seemingly scratched onto their arms. The dark fears, the neuroses, the sense of a wound that will never heal.  You’re lucky to be so ignorant.  Unfortunately, while ignorance can be bliss, it can also be dangerous.  The Holocaust happened.  Mass genocides are still happening today.

The Nazis murdered all sorts of people during the Holocaust, and if we forget or deny that, the danger is that we’ll grow lax and unbelieving.  All we need is for one evil person to take power and, like Hitler, to convince others to do evil. Then, no matter who we are, no matter what our race, religion, or political beliefs, we’ll all be in danger.  That is something none of us must ever forget.

I know that this post will probably not be read by anyone who hates Jews (my last name alone would probably be enough to deter them from reading something by me), and will probably not be given credence by anyone who denies the Holocaust happened.  I’m posting it in the hopes that it might bring something to someone else, that it might educate someone, and above all I’m posting it to honor my grandfather and my boyfriend’s granduncle, my murdered ancestors, and all of the victims.  When I hear that what they went through, can be brushed away as something that didn’t happen, that people out there believe this event that took everything from so many, is a lie, I can’t be silent.

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