From the Left




Susan Estrich on

"Wake up," my friend Annie warned me. "The world is coming to an end."

It was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. I was due to fly east on Friday, to launch my paperback book tour. But first, I switched on the television -- just in time to see the second plane crash into the World Trade Center.

How could I explain what was happening to my kids -- at ages 7 and 10?

I used to worry that my children, growing up in Los Angeles, would never appreciate the reality of antisemitism as I did, growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust. I was in first grade in religious school when Mr. Sherf showed us the number tattooed on his arm and read us the poems written by the children of the Terezin concentration camp.

My favorite:

"He doesn't know the world at all

Who stays in his nest and doesn't go out.

He doesn't know what birds know best

Nor what I want to sing about,

That the world is full of loveliness.

When dewdrops sparkle in the grass

And earth's aflood with morning light,

A blackbird sings upon a bush

To greet the dawning after night.

Then I know how fine it is to live.

Hey, try to open up your heart

To beauty; go to the woods someday

And weave a wreath of memory there.

Then if the tears obscure your way

You'll know how wonderful it is

To be alive."

-- Anonymous 1941

Fifteen thousand children under the age of 15 passed through Terezin. Of these, fewer than 100 survived.

Security was tight around the Temple that year, and for years afterwards.

Not for one minute, upon awakening that morning, did anyone suspect that Canadian separatists had taken over the planes. My generation knew better. The next generation knew in an instant.

"I was once a little child,

Three years ago.

That child who longed for other worlds,

But now I am no more a child

For I have learned to hate.

I am a grown-up person now,

I have known fear ...


But anyway, I still believe I only sleep today,

That I'll wake up a child again, and start to laugh and play ...

Somewhere, far away out there, childhood sweetly sleeps ...

In the flame of candles by my bed, I sleep

And once perhaps I'll understand

That I was such a little thing,

As little as this song.

These 30,000 souls who sleep

Among the trees will wake,

Open an eye

And because they see

A lot.

They'll fall asleep again ... "

-- Hanus Hachenburg, "IX. 1944"

And in that knowledge, they found faith.

"I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever.

Even if I should die from hunger,

Never will I submit.

I will always fight for my people,

On my honor.

I will never be ashamed of them,

I give my word.

I am proud of my people,

How dignified they are.

Even though I am suppressed,

I will always come back to life."

-- Franta Bass

I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever.

In retrospect, I only wish these lessons were a piece of history, and not my children's legacy.


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