Roots and the New York Times


It is a new phenomenon: the Holocaust has become a fashionable topic. Two recent issues of the New York Times Sunday edition each had separate stories on the subject. In one, a young man named Daniel Mendelsohn travels with his siblings to discover what happened to their Uncle Shmiel, who had perished with his family in Poland during World War II. The next week's Sunday Times had a story about a young woman traveling to a small town in Hungary in search of the town where her grandparents were killed. Both trips were very sad; both showed the indifference of the current local townspeople.

I was especially taken with Mr. Mendelsohn's search for Uncle Shmiel because my hometown of Drohobycz is near Bolechow, where Shmiel lived. There were many similarities in our stories. I survived the Holocaust first in the ghetto and later by going into hiding. I left Drohobycz in 1945. Due to my experiences during the war I am now referred to as a "Hidden Child".

Like Mr. Mendelsohn, I had a nagging urge to return to the town where my family lived before the war, to find my roots. About two years ago, I realized the time for such a trip was running out, so I ventured to my hometown of Drohobycz. Everything was different now, yet also familiar. The single-family house where I was born has been converted to a multi-unit dwelling. (I should add that we never sold or transferred the deed to the house. Our property and belongings were casualties of the war.) The Jewish cemetery was gone: the Russians replaced it with some large, non-descript buildings.

As I scanned the faces of the townspeople of Drohobycz, I recognized no one and no one recognized me. Yet, I was afraid. I recalled, as does Mr. Mendelsohn, that the Ukrainians were the worst anti-semites. Then as I looked at the high tower atop city hall, I recalled an act of bravery and kindness by a Ukrainian. On the eve of one raid, a so-called "action" against the Jewish townspeople, a Ukrainian man hid our family of four in the attic space above city hall. He was the town's mayor, a wealthy and established man. He was also my father's friend. He helped us out of the goodness of his heart, without payment, and at great peril to his own life and that of his family.

Why do I write this? First, I thank that man for risking his life for ours and to note that at least one Ukrainian was good. Second, I admire Mr. Mendelsohn and his family who took the time and effort to look for their roots in today's busy times.

Third, I note that in recent years almost every week the New York Times finds newsworthy articles about the Holocaust. Many weeks there two or more such articles. Unfortunately the paper repeatedly overlooked stories about anti-semitic persecution during the war, when lives could have been saved by widespread knowledge of the plight of the Jews.

Today many newspapers focus on the Nazi Holocaust, but they neglect to report on the widespread institutional anti-Semitism in the Arab world. In most Middle East countries, children are taught the Nazi Holocaust never occurred. This Holocaust denial further compounds Arab intolerance for Jewish people. And so there are more daily killings in Israel, a nation substantially comprised of the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. I wonder: Did the Holocaust ever end? And the world still does not care.