The first time I met my boyfriend’s grandparents, I was terrified. First, I really wanted them to like me, and second, he told me they were pretty religious. They’re Roman Catholic, but I’m Jewish, and I didn’t get the impression from the rest of his family that that would upset them, but I wasn’t sure they’d be chill with us dating, and I’m always afraid of those unconscious, anti-semitic micro-aggressions.
Sure enough, within an hour of meeting me they asked if I was religious, in a way that was obviously asking if I had a religion, and which one it was. I calmly told them I was Jewish, and my boyfriend’s grandmother lit up. Her mother was a Syrian who moved to Brooklyn in the early 1900′s and she grew up in a Syrian and Jewish community in Brooklyn and boy wasn’t it nice to have someone around who could help her with her Jewish pastry. It was really pleasant. His grandfather was mostly quiet.
After lunch, he and I shared a cup of coffee and some cookies and I told him about my brothers. He asked if my mom was ok with me dating a gentile. And then he looked around, saw we were alone for a sec, and asked me to follow him out to the garage. In the garage he asked me to take an old picnic basket down from off a cabinet. And then he told me to open it. The moment the lid came off I knew. I knew that shade of red. He told me to take it out and lay it across the floor. It was a Nazi flag. Not just a Nazi flag, but one that was big enough to fly outside a government office, like a massive one. I laid it out, ice in my veins, trying to figure out what was about to happen next. And then he told me to take my shoes off and stand on it.
He told me his vision wasn’t good enough to get into the army, so he snuck on a ship and figured that they’d have to deal with him when he was in Europe, and that’s what happened. He told me he went because they all knew it was bad, and he wanted to help. He told me he took the flag off of some dead Nazis. He told me to go home and tell my mother that I was safe with these goyim she’d never met, that I was loved and welcome and that they’d fight for me. He told me “Never Again”.
He passed away a few years ago, and only after his death, cleaning out his closets did we find his old patches and look up his division. This quiet man who said very little but always shared a cup of coffee with me after lunch was in an anti-tank division, and he and his division liberated camps in Poland. He saw the horrors, first hand.
Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today is a day to reaffirm our promise of “Never Again”. Today is a day to remember that the only way for things to get better is to fight. Today is a good day to punch a Nazi. Do it for me. Do it for Grandpa Rocco. Do it for the world.