My mother, Flora, was born towards the end of the Holocaust. Her family lived in Northern Greece, in the middle of a thriving Jewish community. Her father was part of the Greek underground resistance movement. When the Nazis told the Jewish community that they would be allowed to live if they cooperated, he didn’t believe them. Instead, he decided to take his family into hiding. For part of the war, they hid with a Greek Orthodox priest. The rest of the time they hid in the woods. There was not nearly enough food for the whole family. Some of my mother’s older brothers did not survive. Because my mother was the baby, she received most of the food. It is hard to imagine what her mother and father must have gone through, deciding which child would eat the little food they had, and which would go hungry.
Mark in elementary school
The Nazis rounded up over half of the Jewish population in Greece and deported them to death camps. Most of the people in my mother’s community perished. After the war my grandmother, grandfather, and their three surviving children sought to leave Greece and move to the United States. The Greek government would not let them leave. Rather, they stole their reparation funds from Germany. Eventually my grandmother gave the authorities so much grief that they finally let them leave. The Jewish Federation sponsored their immigration. They came to live in America when my mother was about eight years old. In the United States, other children called her a Christ-killer” before she even knew who Jesus was.
Even though my family was not very religious, because of my mother’s experiences I always knew that we were Jewish. As a child I was glad to be Jewish, but feared the possibility of another Holocaust. I went to a Christian school located in the middle of a Jewish neighborhood and always felt like the “token Jew.” I felt singled out; they all expected me to know the Hebrew Scriptures better than anyone else. One day, on the bus on the way to school, a kid threw a ham sandwich out the window while we were driving through the Jewish neighborhood. I was horrified. Knowing what my mother had been through made me much more sensitive to actions like this, I think. But I did not hide my Jewish identity. I treasured being able to celebrate Passover with my mother’s family. I have good memories of special occasions like going to synagogue with my aunt during the High Holidays.
I think it is important to remember what happened in the Holocaust and to try to prevent it from happening again. We have learned a very harsh lesson of how terribly humans can treat each other. The Holocaust displayed the incredibly sinful nature of humanity, and our need for forgiveness from God. Until humanity is reconciled to God, there will always be the possibility of another Holocaust. My mother was able to achieve her personal reconciliation to God through Jesus.