Our Family Was Lucky

My friend Robert Oppenheimer called back in 1988 to talk about his then- current research project. He had proposed working on methods of healing American Jewish families of their distancing and denial of the Holocaust. He told me that he wanted to talk this project over with me as a friend, but that I was also the first subject. I explained to him that I would be happy to talk about the project, but I couldn’t be a subject, as my family hadn’t lost any close relatives in the Holocaust, so the project did not apply to me. Then I listened to what I was saying.

Notes on the rest of the telephone conversation

Our family was lucky.  All our close relatives “got out” before the war.  Most of them, long before the war, around the turn of the century. So while we must have “lost” relatives in the war, they were all distant relatives.

What about your family?

When my mother was little, her father made her write to his relatives in Europe. He wanted her to know how to speak and write in Yiddish. That’s why he made her write. It was a little awkward for her. Yiddish was not her native language, and she never even met these people.  So she must not have had much to tell these people that she didn’t even know. They were such distant relatives.

But they must not have been so distant for her father. He kept up correspondence with them, at least through his daughter. If they had “gotten out,” probably he would have visited them, they would have visited him, my mother would have known them. But as it was, they stayed distant relatives.

So our family was lucky. Was your family lucky for the same reason?

About the Author
Louis Finkelman teaches Literature and Writing at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. He serves as half of the rabbinic team at Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park, Michigan.
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