This is not a fairy tale.

How far my family has come from Novy-Dror, my grandparents’ shtetl in Poland, a district of Warsaw 31 kilometers from the city’s center.

Granny told me her story. She remembered her own granny hiding her under a haystack during the pogroms. Her granny admonished her, “Not a word, not a sneeze.” 

Hidden under the haystack, my granny could hear the sound of horses, the unseen Poles with their sabers, searching for Jews. I asked, “Would they kill a 5-year-old?” Of course, history has documented countless murders of Jewish children.

This is my grandparents’ immigrant story, escaping their hometown. Family and friends laughed at their dream to live in their “Golden Land.”

In Poland, my grandfather, with only a grade school education, apprenticed to be a barber. He also worked, as an 11-year-old, as a human stevedore, removing cargo from ships.

Born Lazer, and Americanized to Leon, Papa was a short stocky man, with looks reminiscent of Marlon Brando, and with a wide chest. He said he didn’t like the smell of his father’s stables. He wanted to be a barber because he admired the clean, white jackets of barbers and the clean smell of the barbershop.

By the time my grandfather retired, he owned and sold his three barbershops in and around Northwest Baltimore.

In the early 1920s, Leon and my granny, Rose, moved to Cuba. Three years later, they came to Panama and 10 years later to Baltimore. 

In America, Papa always wore a flattop hat over of his yarmulke. In his immigrant English, he often proudly said, “I will not take off my hat for nothing. I live in America.”

"Holocaust Escape Tunnel"
Jews are shown digging a trench in which they were later buried after being shot, in Ponary, Poland. (Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

Papa told me Novy-Dvor’s sad story. The Nazis invaded my grandparents’ hometown and Papa received letters from family and friends who managed to escape. They told stories of how their families were shot and killed in the forest outside their shtetl, how his family dug their own graves and were then shot by the soldiers.

My grandparents lit two dozen candles on the day they received the letters, not knowing the exact date their loved ones were murdered.

Papa once handed me a memorial book, a history of Jews from his hometown. “As we close this Memorial Book of the Novy-Dvor Jewish community,” the book reads, “… with deep sorrow that abundantly exudes from its chronicles, testimonies, accounts, and portrayals, we ask ourselves the question: Will the new generation, the fortunate children and grandchildren of the Jews of Novy-Dvor, have access to the content of this book? Will our children’s children learn the lesson of the Holocaust of ‘Never again’?”

The world knows the story of the Holocaust, that millions died in Nazi concentration camps. A few survivors of my grandparents’ hometown endured death trains and a long ride to Treblinka. Off the trains, they were forced into lines, women and children separated from the men; babies and young ripped from their mothers’ arms died in crematoria.

In my own hometown of Baltimore, at the corner of Water, Gay and East Lombard streets, you could miss the Baltimore Holocaust Memorial, “a stark reminder of the 6 million Jews who lost their lives in Europe between 1933 and 1945.” Unfortunately, it’s desecrated on a daily basis.

Over the past decade, Americans have witnessed tens of thousands of refugees from Central America crossing our country’s southern border. Almost four years ago, President Trump and his administration separated thousands of children from their parents at the border.

Even in the wake of President-elect Joe Biden’s recent election win, we must still remember that Trump has desecrated the refugees’ dreams. Imagine families traveling by foot over 1,500 miles with little to eat or drink, carrying only what they could on their backs or in small wagons, traveling for a better life in the “home of the free, the home of the brave.”

They were escaping from the drug cartels lopping off the heads of husbands and sons in their home countries. Today’s headlines report that the parents of 545 children separated at the border still cannot be found.

After almost four years, I don’t understand the normalization of the ‘545’ without parents; ‘545’ are lost in the daily chaos of the Trump administration.

Is this my grandparents’ “Golden Land”?

Shame on Americans disregarding Trump’s cruel policy. At the last presidential debate, the president continued to defend the policy of separating children at the border, saying, “They are being very well taken care of.”

Ask the expert therapists about the permanent trauma imposed by the cruel separations. On the evening news, we’ve seen the cages; we’ve seen the Kevlar blankets in the cages where babies and siblings sleep on concrete floors.

President Trump has desecrated the meaning of the lesson of the Holocaust — never again.

Please remember the 545 children. Remember that this was not the first time that children and babies were ripped from mothers’ arms.  

This is not a fairy tale.

And remember the words from Deuteronomy etched into the wall of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.:

“Only take heed to thy soul, and

Keep they soul diligently lest thou

Forget the things, which thine eyes saw,

And lest they depart from thy heart all the days 

Of thy life: but make them known unto thy children

And thy children’s’ children.”

A Pikesville resident, Sheila Fox is a Beth Tfiloh congregant.