I wanted to scream at the video. No! Don’t fast forward. Rewind. Please please rewind. Please.
It was actually an advertisement, a long and not dramatic old movie ad for a hotel. What was so painful? What was so compelling that I watched it over and over and over?
At first there was a time warp. As a child who had grown up spending summers in the Borscht Belt from the 40’s through the 70’s, I was very familiar, even blase, about hotel advertisements. Those I knew were billboards sprinkled along the Route 17 Quickway. The Quickway to happy faces, bathing beauties, golf and tennis. Everyone was always having a simply fabulous time. The hotels were places of romance and entertainment. They were respites for the New York Jews who packed them every summer in search of good times, and perhaps, even a spouse. It was a given that everyone was Jewish, including most of the staff. I often think that today’s young Jews need J Date because the Catskills have shuttered their doors. The nostalgia for these bygone days and places runs deep in me, and in many others as well. I met my own husband in 1957 at the Tanzville, a small Parksville hotel.
The video I saw was not in any Catskill setting. It could have been. The scenes were of a mountain resort. The characters were clearly affluent and clearly Jewish. They clowned before the camera. They jumped into pools, waved enthusiastically, held up their babies, even kissed. They played cards and golf and, in the winter, skied and skated, They were having the times of their lives. When they should have been fleeing, escaping or hiding, they were celebrating their wealth and good fortune with others of the same milieu. I wanted to scream. Like a character in a movie, I wanted to insert myself into their lives and tell them what was coming. I wanted them to leave the resort, leave their money, leave their careers, leave their homes, take their loved ones and escape. To anywhere else. To anywhere they could. Anywhere but there, in the beautiful country with its sumptuous resort where they romped and played.
I had discovered the video shortly after entering the Judenplatz Museum in Vienna two years ago. I entered a small room where the film was being played over and over. It was a film made in the late 1920’s. I can’t even guess how many times I watched it before I called my husband in to share it with him. He too was spellbound. We looked at the faces, the faces of those who were doomed and didn’t know it. We knew it. We knew more about their lives than they did themselves. We knew what was going to happen.Yet, we were impotent. What could we possibly do?
We looked at the children. So well dressed. So secure. Such familiar Jewish faces, the hopes of the next generation.
We looked at the women, so well groomed and attractive, enjoying their vacations.
We looked at the men, many in suits and ties, smoking big cigars. Successful.
They did not know what awaited them. We did. And we couldn’t communicate.
We could only cry. And we did.