German Shepherd: The son of a Holocaust survivor grapples with evil


It started as a project, to kind of digest this part of history that was too difficult for me to comprehend. But it’s really… You might have aspects of it that are resolved, but in the end it doesn’t go down smoothly. And you just have to kind of jump over this period and move on. It started, you know, when I was in high school. You know I was very cynical,
always questioning everybody. All the rabbis, you know, wanted to know – where am I going when I die? And where am I going to be? And where’s my friend Peter Riley going to be,
since he’s not Jewish, and… They would just never give me good answers. My mother, was sort of, you know,
she hates Germans… and Germany, and everything it stands for,
and she thinks they’re all born to hate Jews. My mother believes that Germans
are just an evil people. And it’s not rational, and I don’t try to challenge her,
and I don’t blame her. It was just like a whole wave swept over her
entire family and then they were gone. I think that’s why she always had this kind of obsessional connection with her old, dead relatives, you know. She used to always talk to her dead relatives at night, whenever my father wasn’t around, in Polish. Or Yiddish. You know how you grow up with scary stories, like something under your bed is going to grab you? To that was the Germans. When I go to sleep, they might get me. You know, grab me and drag me away like my mother’s relatives. And I thought, you know there’s got to be some nice Germans. So I ended up in Berlin. And I’ve been going back there, pretty much ever since, over the last 20 years. I guess I go once or twice a year. Over the years, I’ve developed a lot of friends. In fact, I think I have more friends in Berlin than I do at my home in New York. Something about the city that constantly draws me back there. It’s funny because Germans have an extra layer of work they have to go through to get to be my friend. And it’s all around this, you know, the grandfather question. What did your grandfather do during the war? And if I don’t know, I can’t even be friendly with them. I don’t mind if they were an SS Executioner, if they’re willing to talk about it. But it’s a strange thing, I cannot get to normalcy before I discuss the “Nazi” thing. There weren’t 20 Nazis that did this. There were hundreds of thousands of people , who were involved and millions more that did nothing. You just can’t change the fact of it. My whole view on human condition. What are we made of? What are we naturally inclined to do? Because of that experience, it’s all negative. It’s all like were inclined to do nothing good. Sometimes society shapes us and pushes us to be better people. But left to our own devices, as you see in that experience, people that you think should be naturally good, will do the most horrible things. For vanity, for competition, for advancement. I mean when I go to a Holocaust movie, “The Pianist,” or “Schindlers List,” I mean it’s very sad, but in a very weird way it’s like a high for me. I’m like I can’t get enough of it, I want it to be 10 hours longer. Because, for a moment, I’m lost in it. I’m there, I am that little boy, I am this persecuted person and in a way, I can’t say the word I “enjoy” it, but it’s like a high, like I’m on something. And it makes me, in a weird way, happy because it gets me a little step closer to what I always thought was so important. To feel what they feel. And then this kind of letdown when it’s over, like oh, Iost it. I mean it’s too much to live everyday like that. And I was for awhile. Unfortunately, what I’m left with and I’m always hoping to have a better view of it… I mean we really are born into this world not naturally inclined to do good, to be kind, to be generous. The emotions, if you notice, like you have a hard time controlling jealousy, envy, competition, resentment, indignation, those are the things you really have to get hold of. And if they are allowed free reign, you do the bad things not the good things. You preserve the world when you can and as it gets closer, it’s really just “me,” it’s all about me. In the end, that’s, I think, our nature, it’s all about “me.” It’s sad, because I think there’s a lot of beauty in the world. I like to think I know kind people, I like to think I am kind, I like to think, you know, naturally I would be. Of course, I’d love to say I know. Look at me now, I would be a resistance figher, I would protest, I would leave the country. But you know what? I might be like everyone else. I think, when it comes to evaluation of the human condition, what are we like at our base? The answer to that question always disturbs, I don’t know, I might’ve been just like them. That’s my piece, it sort of lives beside me. The subject is kind of a friend that sometimes treats me well and sometimes treats me bad but better to have it living next to me, instead of living inside me.

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