When I was a kid, my grandfather always told two stories about his childhood. One was about a rocking horse, and the other was the following: One night, his mother took him and his siblings into the kitchen to sleep. My grandfather and his brothers and sisters usually slept in the living room, but this night they joined their parents in the kitchen. As they were about to fall asleep, the plant in the corner jumped across the room!
This was the entire story, which my grandfather ended with such enthusiasm that even as a child, I knew this was an important memory. The story was magical and funny and altogether unbelievable. Even at five years old, I knew plants couldn’t just jump across the room. What I didn’t know was that in this particular case, the plant did jump. When I was older, my mother told me the real story of the jumping plant – a tale that was much less humorous and significantly more terrifying:
In 1919, my grandfather was born in Warsaw, Poland to Jewish parents, Moishe Mendel and Rachel Leah.They lived in a tiny apartment and from the age of seven, my grandfather stopped going to school in order to work to support his younger siblings. On the night of the jumping plant incident, presumably sometime in the mid-1930s, attacks were occurring all over Poland. My great-grandmother gathered her family in the kitchen to sleep in an effort to keep them together and keep them safe. True to the story, before they fell asleep, a plant did indeed jump across the room. Due to the force of the bomb that fell through their living room, the building shook and the plant moved during the explosion. The child-friendly version of “the plant story” that my grandfather told me and my brother ignored the horrors that were taking place in my grandfather’s daily life. It ignored the fact that his family had no way to ensure their safety, that they were being persecuted for a faith they were born into, and that ultimately, many of them perished at the hands of the Nazis for their beliefs.
Earlier this week, East Ukraine released a leaflet ordering Jews to register and provide a list of their property. If they do not comply, they could face deportation, confiscation of their assets, and revocation of citizenship. Whether or not these pamphlets are even real or if these developments will be acted on is still unclear, but the threat is real nonetheless and points to the growing anti-semitism that exists around the world. The year is 2014; we are almost 70 years removed from the end of the Second World War, and yet we still have not overcome the issues we faced in the 1930s.
We live in a world full of survivors of genocide – we have seen the effects of discrimination to the worst degree, and yet we continue to hate. We hate people who look different, act different, and think differently than we do. We alienate our friends and find enemies in the “other.” We have yet to realize that we are a single human race; one people with one common goal. We all want to live and lead happy lives.
We need to fight against oppression. This week is Passover, the Jewish holiday of Pesach, in which we remember the oppression the Jews felt under the Pharaoh in Egypt many millennia ago and celebrate their liberation. We fought back then, and we will fight back now. No people should have to undergo oppression. Ukraine needs to know that we, as a world, as a single people, as the human race, will not stand by and watch. We will act. Do it for your friends. Do it for your family. Do it for the survivors of oppression everywhere. Do it for my great aunt who has an Auschwitz number tattooed on her arm. Do it for the families who live in refugee camps. Do it for the children who are forced to act as soldiers around the world. And do it for yourself – oppression is everywhere and it is a constant fight – stand tall and fight for others; that way if you are ever on the receiving end, you will never stand alone.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”
– Martin Niemoller
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