From May 8, 1945 to May 8, 2016

I am in Germany with the Russian Army since January. We are advancing westward along the Balkan Sea towards Hamburg. After crossing Germany from Danzig to Rostok all we find is women and children and abandoned villas. As we walk into one of those mansions I am accompanied by a young Russian soldier. The place was so beautiful, something I had never seen in my life, and I’m sure my friend had never seen it. I look around and say to him “How do you like it?” Being a dedicated Communist, he could not say he liked it, so he says “It’s no good!” “Why not?” I ask. “Because there’s no place to spit,” he replies.
After a year of service in Germany we were relocated to Asian Russia, in the Urals, and demobilized. We went back home by train through Moscow. According to an agreement between the Polish government and the Russian government, all Polish citizens were allowed to be repatriated to Poland. I arrived home in 1946, but by the time I returned the deadline for this repatriation had lapsed because my family did not want to leave without me. But the woman who was with us hiding in the forest had returned to her hometown and surprisingly enough the house she had left was returned to her. So we settled with her. And the neighbor to whom she had given all of her belongings before leaving returned them to her.
We had no intention of staying in Russia, so this woman found some way to allow us to join the next wave of refugees moving from east to west. We crossed the Polish border, and when we opened the doors of the freight cars in which we travelled, we saw some people with instruments going to the front of the consist. Ten minutes later we heard screaming and shouting coming from that direction and moving towards us. People were jumping into the freight cars and throwing the belongings of the refugees out. When they got to our car, my mother moved us to the back. But they threw all the belongings of our friend, everything that her neighbor had saved for her and returned, outside. We didn’t know at the time that when Jews returned to their homes in Cheltz were attacked by the local population and the local police and Communist authorities looked on and did not try to prevent it. Forty Jews in Cheltz were killed.
We finally arrived in Lodz, the second largest city in Poland. There we were contacted by the Brichah, the organization that the Jewish Agency gave the mission to move refugees from the east to the west. We were supposed to pretend that we are Greek Jews going home and did not understand the language spoken to us. That was the official explanation for us staying on the train: we had no intention of remaining in Poland where the land was soaked with our blood. We arrived in Breslau and from there we were escorted at night to the Czech boarder. The border guards made sure that any valuables that the refugees carried were removed, and we wound up in the town of Bratislava for a day or two. And then we were legally moved to Austria, arriving at Rothschild Hospital which was then the center of Jewish operations, facilitating the movement of Jews from the east. We were sent to the American Zone in Austria, a former Army base called Wegscheid. 
I soon discovered that someone I knew from before the war was in the same camp, and I went to visit him in Barrack 13. There I met, accidentally, Malka, who was visiting someone else. Many years later, one of the holocaust survivors in Pittsburgh, Harry Schneider, when telling me his story, said to me that he was in Wegscheid too. He was ten years younger, and I didn’t know him there. He brought me a photo of his class from the spring of 1945, and when I looked at it I realized that Malka was the young teacher.  
Meeting Malka was the most fortunate thing that happened to me after the war. We eventually married and stayed together fifty-two years until she passed away in 2007. We had two daughters and six grandchildren. Malka’s love for children was boundless. Right after the war she became a teacher or, as she would say if asked what her vocation was, “It’s helping children grow.” In time she earned a reputation as a very gifted educator from whom parents were getting advice and children were getting a warm relationship. Malka worked for about 25 years as the principal of a preschool in Queens, NY. After we retired we settled near our daughter in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill, which was a place made for us where we felt at home from the first day we arrived. I got involved with the Jewish Community Center teaching Russian immigrants English so they could pass the citizen test, and Malka leading book reviews. After three years we were honored by the JCC for our contributions, introduced by Sheldon Ziontz who said “It is surprising that these people who came here only three years ago have made such deep roots in our community.” In reply I commented “You can only make deep roots where the ground is fertile.” 
Malka’s yartzeit on the Jewish calendar is the 19th of Iyar which this year falls out on the 27th of May. But the secular date is May 7, the day before the May 8 anniversary of the end of the Second World War. This year we mark that anniversary for the seventy-first time, and it is still surprising to me that this date is not marked on most calendars. But my family and I celebrated by lighting a candle in memory of those who fought and died so that we could be free. 

“J’Accuse”

“Adam, where are you?” (cf. Gen 3:9). Where are you, o man? What have you come to? …Who corrupted you? Who disfigured you? Who led you to presume that you are the master of good and evil? Who convinced you that you were god? Not only did you torture and kill your brothers and sisters, but you sacrificed them to yourself, because you made yourself a god.Pope Francis, 26 May 2014

Germany, 1945. I am with the triumphant Russian Army in the province of Mecklenburg on the Baltic Sea. I was lodged in a private German house where the owner was a woman still living there. Inadvertently, she asked me where I was from and about my experience during the war. I told her my experience, that my family was killed, my town wiped out, thousands of others murdered. And then she looked at me with a straight face and said “But you bombed our cities!”

This episode comes to my mind when we talk about the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Only the moments that the reporter sees are delivered to the view, without context, without perspective, as if the conflict had just begun at the moment when this particular bomb was dropped. And this is occurring in Gaza, where strangely, after three or sometimes four generations, a majority of the inhabitants are classified as refugees under the supervision and with the support of the United Nations.

When we talk about refugees, we have to ask “Why are there still refugees in camps in Gaza when refugees from other wars have been more quickly resettled or absorbed into the countries in which they were refugees?” How is it that under the auspices of the United Nations these camps have spawned terrorist groups who export their violence to many corners of the world? In Europe, in the United States, and even in some Arab countries like Jordan, refugees were absorbed, and their children were educated and became successful professionals, businesses people, politicians and educators. Why were refugees in Gaza not treated in the same way?

We should consider this a violation of basic human rights: the United Nations by facilitating and financing such a state of affairs has violated the human rights of those who are in the camps. People are not supposed to be in camps for so many years. By sponsoring those camps, by allowing them to exist, by not making a greater effort to resettle those refugees, and by failing to support and facilitate efforts made by others to disband the camps, the UN has failed in its mission and become a violator of the very human rights principles that it proclaims.

There have been refugees after every war, and none of them have been allowed to live in camps supported by the UN for more than a few years. Why is it that in Gaza those who found themselves unable or unwilling to return to their homes have been allowed to remain for as long as 66 years, the better part of a century, with no attempt to settle them permanently? Israeli prime ministers tried during the peace process to suggest disbandment of the camps, but by that time the idea of resettlement was in direct conflict with the idea of the so-called “right of return,” and Yasser Arafat refused to consider negotiating that right.

I believe that the answer has less to do with historical enmities in the Middle East and much more to do with global politics. As time went on, the UN became a hotbed of Cold War politics, a place of contention for support of third world countries. Israel was ground zero in this battle: dozens of resolutions were passed by third-world countries opposing support of Israel simply because the US was in support of Israel.

As I surfed the internet, I came across the story of the visit of the Pope to Jerusalem this past May. And I read the words of his speech “Adam, where are you?”, the words that God said to Adam in the Garden of Eden. So I say to this dis-United Nations “Where are you? Your function is to secure peace among the nations of the world, and instead you have become a tool of the enemies of Israel who waged wars, boycotts, assassinations, and massacres without any consequences. Where have you been, you dis-United Nations?”

As I finished the last line of this blog, the news came that an indefinite truce has been  announced. In the rubble-filled streets of Gaza, people burst into shouts of  joy. “WE WON!” Thousands  killed and many wounded. “We WON!”  MIllions spent on building tunnels, obtaining and constructing rockets. Millions more will now be spent on rebuilding. “We won!” I will leave to the mathematicians what could have been done with those millions if they were spent for the benefit of the people of Gaza by helping them find permanent homes. But as it stands now the U.N. and those who provide the funds will “GENEROUSLY” keep the residents of Gaza in misery and despair as Eternal Refugees.

I hope you will all join me in raising this question with your friends as we continue to focus our thoughts and prayers towards a permanent resolution of the conflict in the Middle East. Do not be complacent: Israel may be the current target, but if we do not confront this campaign of hate, vilification, and slander, Israel will not be the last.