As events unfolded in Washington DC on 1/6/21, my first reaction was disbelief seeing the protest accelerate to a riot and then an insurrection storming Capitol Hill. I was horrified to see symbols of hate on the steps and in the hallways of the Capitol. This hatred was desecrating the centerpiece of our democracy. As the son of parents who survived the Holocaust, it brought back memories of hallucinations about my mother trying to hide me from Nazis who had taken the form of demons.
For several weeks in late 2008 and early 2009, I was in a coma after suffering from a severe blood infection after what was supposed to be a routine gall bladder operation. While I wavered between life and death, my family hid my true condition from my elderly and ailing mother. But I believe she managed to reach out to me. When I awoke from the coma, I recalled intense nightmares that gave me a sense of what she’d gone through while in the Auschwitz concentration camp. She rarely spoke about it to me, my siblings, or cousins but I think before she passed away, she wanted me to know what she, my father, aunt, and uncle experienced.
In these dark visions, they hid me near Middletown, NY in the Catskills, a place like a real old-time Polish shtetl like the one they must have lived in outside Lodz, Poland before the war. All the streets were dark and narrow like a ghetto and my mother, father, aunt, and uncle were there with my cousins hiding me. And I heard the sirens all the time. I remembered my mother telling me they knew the Germans were coming once they heard the sirens and they would need to hide more. So that’s what I did. They hid me more while I was in this shtetl. And my mother’s voice came through the dark. “This vay Steviala, Hide here, Stevala. It von’t be easy, but I von’t let you die.”
But my mother wouldn’t let the demons capture me. My four-foot-10-inch tall mother hid with me in the shadows and reassured me. “You can do it Stevala, No is not an answer,” she told me.
Tragically my mother passed away before I came out of the coma. But her words have stayed with me and to me, they mean to speak up and take action against anti-Semitism.
The horrors the Jewish people and others suffered because of the Nazis cannot be repeated. We cannot allow what took place in Washington DC to happen there or anywhere else again. I will do my part and ask all of us to do yours.