I read Anne
Frank’s diary for the first time in third grade and before that, Lois Lowry’s
book Number the Stars, Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, and, after that, the
collection of photographs and stories in We
Remember the Holocaust, and then our family went to The Holocaust Museum in
Washington D.C. soon after it opened and waited in a long line to get in. I
read Maus by Art Spiegelman and Elie
Wiesel’s Night and then, Day, and I saw Schindler’s List in a movie theater with my dad soon after it was
released. My great grandmother and her brothers left Poland for New York soon
after the end of the First World War, but those who stayed were killed by Nazis
and a black and white photograph of one of these families hung on the wall that
faced our front door for my entire childhood. My parents did not demand I
immerse myself in the history that haunted one side of my family; it was my
doing, first prompted by my grandmother and maintained by my overwhelming fear
girls have written about their grade school fascination with the Holocaust so I
know I’m not unique, I know I was part of a silent army of women who could not
help but imagine what we would have done, had we been born back then. Would we
have been brave? What does it mean to have been brave? Would our parents have
had the foresight or money to send us away? Would we have been old enough to
join the resistance? Would we have lived through the horrors and for how long? Questions
like these hung over my head for years and only receded when I was old enough
to see that my existence, as a Jew, was not considered a threat by my
government. And so, my worries became entirely hypothetical, not actual. Lucky
Meanwhile, a year
later, at 11, I got my period, as girls do. The only horror of it then was figuring
out how to put in a tampon so I could go to swim practice. My right to an
abortion was not a conundrum, even if I didn’t know it then: Roe v. Wade was
not at great risk during the 1990s.
I was a freshman
in college on September 11th, 2001, and my friends and I read
Seymour Hersh’s articles in The New Yorker, listened to Democracy Now,
attended academic debates about the necessity of going to Iraq and the threat
of racial profiling. The conundrum remained, however, philosophical, for me, not
immediate or practical. I was an eighteen-year old white woman in
Michigan. I would not be profiled, nor would I be expected to go to war and
none of the men I knew were volunteering.
I am thirty-three
years old now. I have an almost three-year old son. In the 15 years since I
went to college, I have despaired, albeit quietly, one presidency and been awed
and buoyed by this most recent one. I live in New York City. Here, we are
suspicious of everyone and no one and because we ride the subway shoulder to shoulder
with each other, we generally shut down people who come in swinging. Most
of us know the stranger is not the danger;
the danger is the people who shove the stranger. I believe Black Lives
Matter, I post articles about this, I put the words up on my Twitter
background. But what have I really done? As sad as I feel about it, what the
fuck have I really done? People in my city, the one I know to be tolerant,
have, both very recently and for years, have been harassed and brutalized on the
same trains I ride on every day. I just didn’t know it and I let myself not
woken up every morning since Wednesday with a hollow in my stomach. It is
anxiety and I know why it is there.
Niemöller’s words, words that are not hypothetical, bang like shrill, necessary
they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I wondered as a child when the time
would come to be brave. When I imagined it back then, it was preceded by a
knock on the door, a group of serious, awful men in boots, an order to follow
them; it was death. It was everything I’d read about and the only part I
couldn’t figure out was what I would do in the face of it.
Here we are.
know the time is now to say the hard things, yes, and to resist through protest
and through words. It is time to speak for the marginalized, to speak as the marginalized, to organize
peacefully with those who believe in the freedoms of every person living in
this country, to look past Tuesday toward the future and extend a hand to the
people like Martin Niemöller, who was, at first, a Nazi supporter, and then
later, changed his mind.
can be changed, but only if we speak up so loudly, it is impossible not to hear
I be brave?