My parents, Holocaust survivors and 3-month-old sister landed at Idlewild Airport in Jamaica, NY on June 25, 1949.
It was a brutally hot day and my father was wearing the heavy wool trousers he had worn in Germany.
My mother was exhausted caring for an active baby on the 24 hour flight from Munich with a re-fueling stop in Shannon, Ireland.
A man in uniform saw my mother’s distress and offered her a cold bottle of Coca-Cola.
My parents’ war experiences had been very different.
The conflict began for my father on September 1, 1939 when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland. Six weeks later, as the Soviet forces began to withdraw from his town, he and his immediate family left with them.
When war ended in 1945, his employer, Dmitri Protopopov First Secretary of the Communist Party of Tajikistan (long story) told him (in Russian) “We like you very much. We want you to stay in the Soviet Union”.
My dad, 25, responded (in Russian) “I have learned so much about the glories of Communism that I want to go back and teach it to the Polish people.”
Protopovov let him leave.
On the night of the first Pesach seder in March, 1944, a young Wehrmacht soldier knocked on my mother’s door. My grandfather invited him in and showed him the place settings.
Seven weeks later, on Shavuot, she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. Her parents were killed upon arrival.
My father would tell us about the Soviet Union, starvation, freezing temperatures, malaria, etc., but he would also share his gratitude of having been with his family, the humor, even the irony.
My mother kept her memories to herself.
Growing up, I never heard my parents talk about politics.
They were intent on re-making their lives in this country and perhaps, had an innate suspicion of all things political.
However, they took the opportunity to vote very seriously.
My mother would wear a suit and hat to cast her ballot.
My father, work-a-holic that he was, nevertheless always voted.
I once asked my aunt, also a survivor, “Who did you vote for?”
“Secret Service!” she said, putting her finger to her lips.
I always assumed that my parents were voting for Democratic candidates.
We lived in Borough Park, Brooklyn at the time and it seemed that everyone was a Democrat.
One day, years later, my father told me he had voted for Ronald Reagan.
It hit me like a thunderclap.
“You voted for a Republican?” I asked.
It took a while but I began to question the principles and actions of the Democrat Party.
I had been a devoted Democrat, always voting the party line.
I regularly purchased a ticket to the annual Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson banquet.
The last time I attended I sat at my table as speaker after speaker mounted the stage, demanding this and insisting on that. After a few hours, they all blended into one big “Gimme!”
“I don’t belong here,” I said to myself.
I walked out and changed my party registration the next day.