As the son of a French-Jewish Holocaust survivor who was herself but a child when the Nazis marched into Paris, nothing brings me closer to fury than the tormenting of helpless kids by adults.
The image of little children at America’s border, torn from their mother’s arms by armed, uniformed agents of the government and shipped off screaming to detention centers – some as many as thousands of miles north — incites me to violent thoughts about those responsible for among other things, it reminds me of my mother, wearing a Jewish star, crying and screaming at her arrest for deportation on July 21,1942.
Paradoxically, she was my own first tormentor who, until I and my fraternal twin brother, Howard, turned five years of age, really was a dream mom. But when she lost a baby girl at term she returned from the hospital with severe post-partum depression. This in turn reawakened her memories of the Holocaust.
Suddenly, she began to share her demons with me. These Holocaust tales were my Harry Potter stories, sometimes followed by her threats to jump from our fourth floor Bronx tenement window. It is no easy thing for an eight year old boy to talk his mother back from death yet somehow, each time, I succeeded.
I became, alternately, her whipping boy, historian, psychologist and closest confidant. To Howard she neither spoke of her war experiences nor assaulted him. But I was beaten and vilified with consistant brutality, followed by strange interludes of closeness in the dead of night when we sat together on her bed and she told me, often tearfully, stories of what happened to her and to her loved ones during the Holocaust.
Later, while growing up, other tormentors appeared. Packs of Black and Latino teens who called me Jew Boy and threw bars of soap at my legs or beat me with a stickball bat or stole my lunch money or beat me insenseless for the crime of daring to look into their eyes when passing on the street.
A thug nicknamed El Sadista attacked me whenever I appeared in the schoolyard, while in a cool dark building lobby a large white adult male named Mike often pummeled me mercilessly, just for the fun of it. Another man in his twenties, whose name I never learned, regularly chased, caught and wrapped himself around me, holding me pinned against cars and heavy breathing into my ear. There was also Billy the Barrel, another adult pedophile, who had me hold his genitals in a corner of the schoolyard.
When, at 14, my body shot up to six feet and I began to play regular sports, this all changed. By 15, I was tough. By 16, I was respected. By 17, I was feared. I played Varsity tackle for an all boys high school football team in the Bronx and you would not dare to mess with me. I got serious payback on many of those former tormentors.
In my twenties, I moved to Israel, became a citizen and served in the IDF in both regular army and reseves, during the first Lebanon War and in the Second Intifada.
And yet, to this day, I am haunted by the cries of children, cannot bear to hear a child suffer. It is a kind of PTSD which reminds of my own childhood cries, and in turn echoes my mother’s cries under the Nazis.
More than once I have heard a toddler scream in the streets and have run down, frantic, only to see a kid in a stroller with its mother, just being normal.
These days the image of tormented children at the U.S. Border haunts my days and nights. I cannot stop thinking of them, or bear to imagine their suffering. Although I did not personally experience the Holocaust and certainly understand why some survivors might adamentally refuse to draw parallels between Hitler’s Germany and what is happening on America’s border with Mexico, other survivors have made the connection, heard in the cries of the separated children the echoes of their own unthinkable Holocaust past.
My brother, a staunch Trump supporter, who did not receive either my mother’s blows nor her stories, indignantly rejects the Holocaust analogy and furiously defends his POTUS against all comers.
I, however, feel that Trump’s kindercleansing war on children is an international human rights violation for which Sessions, Miller and others of his administration are directly responsible and must all stand trial with him some day in the International Court of the Hague, as American justice cannot seem to bring these scoundrels to heel.
To that end, I have launched, albeit quixotically, a petition that I plan to submit to the Hague, requesting that Trump and his immigration policy lieutenants face trial in an international court of human rights.
Never before have I felt so ashamed to live in America. This has become the puppet state of an inhuman fanatic, in which there is no government, no society, no moral core, no dream. There is only nightmare and the abyss when United States policy deploys the terror of children as an instrument of deterrence.
Not that I believe that such a trial will silence for me the cries of children in the night. Those are embedded deep within. They are the cries of Jewish children throughout Time, from the savagery of Roman invasion to the Spanish Inquisition to the Pogroms of Russia to Hitler’s unthinkable slaughter of one million Jewish children in the mass graves of Babi Yar and the ovens of Treblinka.
They are the cries uttered by my twelve year old mother when arrested along with twenty thousand Parisian Jews and they are also my cries, the ones I made as a child when she shattered me with blows like unthinkable memories and with memories like unhealable blows.
Alan Kaufman’s memoir Jew Boy (Cornell University Press) will be made into a motion picture by Plug Ugly Films.