| General Poetry
posted March 14, 2019
Her Holocaust and Mine
It was 1956 in a very small and rural Montana town
where I learned about hate, how it tasted and how it felt.
My parents refused to come to Family Day and punctuated
their refusal with a hiding from The Belt.
So Susan Cloud and I sat huddled and embarrassed
in our outcast isolation.
Susan's folks were reservation, afraid to come to town.
Susan was brave and hateful, she called out funny remarks,
and we leaned into each other in our desperate conversation.
Aaron Abromovitz was a Jew and I was forbidden to even
walk to school with him, even though he passed the house each day.
It was his turn to introduce his family. They were Hungarian Jews
who had been sent to various parts of America when the
death camps were liberated after World War Two.
The mother and father proudly stood alongside a bent old woman
with gray hair. It was Sharon who said, "Christ Killer" in a loud,
The room was filled with indignant noises.
It was the grandmother who looked over at us
with kindly eyes.
Our giggles were fueled by self-righteous emptiness,
with an envy only two very small and abandoned girls
could not disguise.
Aaron's Grandmother told us about the Holocaust in Germany,
took off her sweater, rolled up her sleeve so we could see
the line of numbers that marked the skin of her wrinkled arm.
Our eyes met and I felt a rush of sorrow at her sturdy dignity.
Treblinka, Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergan Belsen were just words.
Someone had hurt this old woman just because she was a Jew.
I could feel the ridges of my scars, some healed, some not.
I understood then because I was a child who was being hurt too.
In a strong voice, the woman said, "They could scar me and mark me,
but they could not take away who I am - here, deep inside."
She looked at me and smiled as if I mattered in the world.
I felt the searing flame of every mark I had to deny and hide.
If strangers could maim and kill old people like Aaron's Gran,
maybe the people who marked my skin were to blame.
Could it be that I wasn't really worthless and lazy and ugly?
They could take our bodies she said, but never ever who we were.
When it was time for cookies and punch kids went up to
Aaron's Gran and asked if they could touch her numbers tattooed in ink.
She said scars are private things, not meant for the eyes of others.
She said what really matters is inside, not in what others think.
An old woman and a little girl lived through their holocaust.
The next day, as Aaron walked by, I ran out to walk him to school.
I got a hiding that day, and others, for taking up with the Jews,
but I had learned there were no lines when people choose to be cruel.
Aaron Abromovitz was my friend until his death in 2017. I broke his heart with my foray into life with an abusive man. This is one of those "if only" times that come too late. He was just a friend, but a friend of a lifetime.
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