More Real, More Human

There’s a powerful moment in the graphic Holocaust novel Maus, by Art Spiegelman. 

The book is striking in how it depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and non-Jewish Poles as pigs. As Spiegelman talks with his father Vladek about the latter’s Holocaust experience, the story comes to life on the pages. 

But there’s a beautiful poignant depiction of a life and girlfriend he leaves behind in a small city called Czestochowa before the war. Vladek even begs Art not to write about the love story in the book. “It has nothing to do with Hitler and the Holocaust,” he says. “But Pop,” replies his son, “ … it makes everything more real – more human.” That was the phrase I remembered most when I read the book. That was the phrase that stuck with me. 

Our history isn’t just tragedy. It’s also the human stories behind, and before, the tragedy. 

Czestochowa had 40,000 Jews before the war. One-third of the population was Jewish. Thousands of them were rounded up in the “Big Ghetto” 72 years ago this week, on Yom Kippur, and either sent to Treblinka or executed on the spot. Tens of thousands were eventually killed. Very few survived.

But here, today, in the center of our thriving Jewish community…something remains. I visited the newly-named Gottesman RTW Academy (formerly known as Hebrew Academy of Morris County) the other day. I walked through the new, beautiful building site and met with staff and saw their student body in their classrooms. It’s a thriving, vibrant statement of Jewish life.

And on one wall, in their temporary synagogue, is a Torah scroll. From Czestochowa. Because life will go on, and we have to find ways to celebrate and commemorate.

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