By Cynthia Stead
Exclusive for Shalom Magazine
My father Nils Stead was a member of the U.S. Army’s Yankee Division at the close of WW2. He fought in northern Europe under the command of General Patton. He was among the troops who discovered The Camps. It changed his life.
When I was a teen, we talked about this in a very oblique way. He spoke of the evil genius of the Nazi system. All children must join the Hitler Youth. The adults were told to be on the lookout for the bullies, the intimidators, who liked to push a weaker kid off a swing. They were promoted to a more elite group, and the education about the darkest side of the Jewry began there. The instructors were also told to look out for those who like to hurt animals, or taunt weaker children. Those were educated in the evil and corruption of the Jewry, and it was suggested that they could feed their appetites to their hearts content abusing them. If they had to work hard and learned techniques, they could have a very special patriotic duty. The most brutal of that cadre was sent to administer and guard the camps.
One camp they liberated in Poland was a special example. As the Army tanks approached, the guards were still herding the captives in the barracks, lining them up in front of the pits, and machine gunning them. They then quickly spread quicklime to process the next batch of Jews. There were tears running down their faces as the US troops wrestled the guns out of their hands – because they knew they would never be able to satisfy their urges to maim and kill in such a way again
My father abhorred all forms of racial and religious prejudice, because he saw how it could be used to pervert the young and create a lifelong hatred. No slur or word denigrating another person for race, or religion, or gender was ever tolerated in my house. My family was Swedish, and we looked like the posters for the upstanding Aryan family. But as my father said, we were not immune. No matter how blond my hair or blue my eyes, I would not satisfy the eugenics behind the extermination of the Jews. I am epileptic and have seizures, so I would not have been acceptable for breeding the Super Race. I would be exterminated like a Gypsy, or an African, or a Jew. The Nazi ideal of purity was paramount, as it is in the Intifada.
As with the Nazis, the control of the youth is essential. In some Middle Eastern countries, there are cartoons like Sesame Street for the preschoolers. They often feature brave Palestinian children, saving an elderly lady from having her house robbed and burned by Jews. A brave adult explains why it is so important to fight the Jews, to end their corrupt religion and violent oppression. You must begin early to be taught correctly. Sadly, this has permeated some of our academic institutions as well.
Shortly before he died, my father asked that I have the rabbi from the local synagogue come and visit him. It was important to him that he testify, that he validate the reality of the Holocaust. He was deeply distressed by deniers. I was not there for the conversation, as he did not want his only daughter to hear some of the things he wanted to describe. At his apartment he had packed a box I was never allowed to touch. They were things he had brought home from the war, and they had been kept in the attic for decades. He directed me to bring the box to the rabbi, and under no circumstances should I open or look into the box. It was the evidence of his testimony and he wanted it preserved. I obeyed him. But in an old desk, I later found a small photo, only 3 x 2 inches long. It shows pale white bodies in a ditch. I put it back in the desk, as my bit of evidence for his testimony.
Because we need to remember to Never Forget.
Cynthia Stead lives on Cape Cod, serves as a trustee of the Perkins School and currently works at Catholic Charities in Hyannis