Monday, November 10, 2008
70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht
Today is the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht which means the Night of Broken Glass. It was the real start of the Holocaust which represents the darkest period of European history. That night coordinated destruction of German Jews began with almost 100 killed, at least 25,000 arrested and deported to camps, 200 synagogues destroyed and thousands of Jewish business ransacked. So it was ironic that today, the 70th anniversary of that dark day, my dad died.
My dad was about to turn 96 later this month and had survived the Nazi death camps. The story he would tell would make your skin crawl. He worked as a slave labourer and part of the killing machine at the death camps - with little or no food. I think it was a combination of stubbornness, guile, iron constitution and just plain luck that allowed him to survive when so many did not including his first wife and a young daughter. He often spoke of his young daughter Leah who in his mind was still a child. Had she not been murdered she would have been a grandmother in his 70s today.
That toughness was part of his life till the day he died. Just 2 years ago he was crossing the street with his walker when he was struck by a car. He went sailing through the air and walked away with only a bent walker, broken glasses and a lot of bruises. The doctors at the hospital were amazed. But my dad was going when he was good and ready.
About a year ago my mother's health was failing and we found it necessary to move my parents into a retirement home. My father hated it. He complained it was worse than the concentration camps although it was a lovely facility. My family was perplexed by his attitude. He stopped eating and began to waste away - repeatedly stating he wanted to die. I never could understand why is was so upset about the home he was living in until this morning, just hours before his death, I read about the work of Marcia Sokolowski, a clinical ethicist at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. She has found that for survivors in an institution, routine elements of care can trigger horrors from the past. Being in an institution was not something my father could deal with so he chose his own way out. When he died it was on his own terms and not determined by sadistic fascists or a careless mother behind the wheel.
For my family the pain and anguish began 70 years ago on that dark night in Germany and ended peacefully here in Toronto.