GUEST POST // The Holocaust Box by Paol Soren

I have a box on my desk. Here is where my father lived.

One year ago today I received a large box with all Papa’s papers in it. It came from Douglass and Cohn, Solicitors of Bank Place, Melbourne. In it were all the records of my family’s dealings with the law as long as I can remember. They keep all documentation for twenty years and then destroy it unless any of the family wants it and I am the only family.

I have two fathers. I know that now but I only found out one year ago. One year ago I only knew Papa. Mama died when I was twelve and I loved her dearly. She was always such a happy person. I really could do with her now but that is asking too much – I am eighty years old and I will join them all soon.

Papa died in 1993. He was as old as I am now and he never told me who I was.

Here is where my other father lived – in a box.

My first real memory was of the ocean. I cannot remember my childish feelings but I do know the ocean was cold and then very hot and then quite cold again and we were on a boat with thousands of other people, old and young but mostly sad. I remember coming to Melbourne although I didn’t know what a Melbourne was, then. But it was a house and it was quiet and peaceful and I think I know that because I felt that it was different.

At home we spoke German. At school I spoke English and as the years went by I spoke German less and English more. But on Sunday we all spoke only German for Papa was the pastor at the German Lutheran Church in our suburb.

I was proud of my father. He spoke well. His sermons were clear. The congregation were very supportive. But as I grew and went to school I learned that being German was not as good in this world as I had thought. I learned about Hitler and the things that had happened in Europe. I put my age and the dates together and knew that we had been involved.

I knew without asking that something momentous had happened in our small family but I was busy with my school and although they said little I asked even less.

At school I learned that Australian soldiers had died in the war against Germany. I knew that some Australians hated Germans with a clear and open hatred. And I was included in that. And I wondered what I had done.

But as the years went by, and as I grew and my friends grew we forgot the early hatreds of the war and established our lives and established our families and I married and went to work.

At the church where my father had been pastor we stopped using German and all services were in English. Many parishioners were ordinary Australians and the German character changed and we became an ordinary old “Aussie” church. I became a member of the church council and some people suggested that my commitment was such that I should study to become a pastor as my Papa had been but work was also an attraction and I never did commit myself. I knew, always, that I was a true and faithful Christian.

This is not about my life and my marriage and my children and all that that entails. I could talk forever if I was writing a history of my life but I am not. Because everything that my life, my marriage, my children were to me, changed that day, one year ago, when I opened the box.

I am Jewish. I am not my father’s son. My mother, whom I loved dearly, lied to me all those years. In the box I learned the truth. I learned that I am Jewish. I am a ‘Yid’. I am supposed to have curly hair and a big nose. Oh, and I am supposed to be in the financial world. And I am not. I knew nothing of being Jewish, only those stereotypes.

And in the box I learned that Papa, and Mama, whom I loved dearly, were no longer my parents. And I slammed the lid of the box shut and cried and cried as only an old man can cry. I had few tears left inside my head but I sobbed and sobbed.

And I opened the lid of the box again and read. And again I slammed the lid of the box shut and cried and cried as only an old man can cry.

And then I stopped. I stopped sobbing for I am an old man and sobbing is for old women.

And I will tell you the box.

The box spoke of Hitler and the Brown shirts and Kristallnacht which I didn’t need to learn because I had learned it at school. At school it had just been one more factor in our year twelve Modern History Course – just another subject to pass to get into University. Make sure you impress the examiners if you want a good score. Do you want to study Law? Modern History is a fairly easy way to get a good score. Crystal Night. They burnt books. Or was that another night. I don’t remember. It was the Jews.

I am a Jew! I slammed the box shut. I will leave it for a while. Maybe it will be a dream.

But the dream did not let me alone.

I opened the box. I will tell you the box’s story.

The box told of the Jews disappearing. They got on a train and were never seen anymore. Papa was a young Pastor then. But he had a very old friend from when he was a boy in school in the village. Yakob Aronheim and Papa had played together as friends. And now Yacob was a Rabbi. And Papa and Yacob were still friends. The Nazis knew that Papa was sympathetic toward the Jews. Many Christians were not. Papa was so concerned that he was soon to be targeted by the Nazis. He decided to go quietly to Belgium. He spoke with Yakob and Yakob’s wife and suggested that they should also leave. But Yacob could not get the right papers. I know this sounds very terse but it is as the box told it.

What way can I help you?

Miriam and I have talked. Would you take Yacob, our son, and have him as your son?

Of course.

And do not tell him we left him.

Of course not.

And don’t let him be Jewish or he will die as we will.

Of course. But No! Not of course. He must know who he is.

Then when he is old enough to understand.

But I do not understand and I am old. And I slammed the lid.

I opened the lid. The box will tell. But the box told no more.

And I am a Jew. And I have two fathers and two mothers and I knew only one father and for a short time a mother. And I am a Jew and I have nothing to say – nothing to think – nothing to know.

And I started to run – to run to books – to run to friends – to run to my father. But my father was dead. Who is my father? Papa, are you my father or is Yakob my father?

And as I cried this time I cried, ‘My father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy …… ‘ And I slammed the lid shut.

I am a Jew. I am a Christian. My God, My God, who am I. Why hast thou forsaken me? Who am I now?

And I ran to the box but the lid was shut. There was no more in the box. I knew I was alone. No father, no parent, no God.

And I stopped crying like an old lady.

There is a suburb in Melbourne that I drove through every day to work. Carlisle Street, Balaklava. Strange men walking with large black hats on their head. Young men with yarmulkes keeping their heads covered whether they know why or not. So I stopped and walked down Carlisle Street. I won’t say I felt at home. But I was quite at ease. A young man in a beard and a black suit with his white shirt hanging out and tassels stopped me.

“Are you Jewish?” he asked.

“No,” I answered. “Do I look Jewish?”

“Well, yes you do.”

“Well I am not. What do you want?”

“We are praying for peace in Israel,” he said, winding some black string around his arm. I ignored that.

“No,” I said, a little more gently than before, “But I think I am on your side.” And I walked away feeling quite pleased with my self although I had no idea why.

I looked up Jewish Museum in the phone book. I lived quite close and it was Friday and I drove and parked and walked and it was closed. It is always closed on Fridays and Saturdays when all the other museums in Australia are opened.

And the days passed. And the weeks. And I went to libraries and read and read and read and then I started to cry again.

When I was in school we learned of things that the box had said. The box spoke of Hitler and the Brown shirts and Kristallnacht. But I already told you that. At school it had just been one more factor in our year twelve Modern History Course. And I told you that as well. I don’t remember Year Twelve Modern History. I learned more now. I learned of Crystal Night and Dachau and burning and gas. But now it was personal. I went back to the box.

And in the bottom was a small dark letter and my father Yacob was dead in Auschwitz. My father and mother had made it to Belgium but that was not enough. My mother was Miriam.

And I am a Jew. The box could tell me no more. It told me where to start but I had to find my own way.

The next Sunday I went to church – as I have done for all my life. And I know that when I got up, halfway through the sermon they all looked at me. Is Jacob all right? Why is he leaving? Why doesn’t someone go after him? He doesn’t look well.

I will tell you this. Jacob is not well. I am Yacob, and I am not well.

My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me? No I am not well.

I walked that day right in to town. I left my car. I did not notice the tram. I walked all the way to the Cathedral. If God is here, here will he be.

I knelt to pray. But I could not pray. “Father forgive me for I have sinned.”

My God! My God! Why did you forsake me? Why did you forsake my father and my mother? How many did you forsake?

I was Jacob wrestling with the angel. I was Job in all his torment. And God replied but I could not listen.

For I am a Jew and I haven’t learned to forgive God.

And I closed the lid, and I took the box.

And I burned my own private holocaust.

I am glad I will die soon.

© All rights reserved 2015

50 thoughts on “GUEST POST // The Holocaust Box by Paol Soren

  1. Okay, first, this is very moving and fantastic! Awesome as always Tony! Second, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NO OFFENSE TO ANYONE AT ALL! BUT, I’m just confused and don’t think I’m reading this correctly at all – which is why I’m asking for guidance.

    I’m left confused. Is this man angry that he’s found out what a sacrifice his biological parents made in keeping him safe? Because due to the terms he uses to describe what he thinks being a Jew is/means I’m left feeling he’s led a life making fun of and being racist against the very thing he finds out he truly is. Guidance please. I’m confused and somewhat offended – and I truly believe I’m missing the meaning here so please explain.

    Side note. I am a Jew. I only had 1 grandmother and 1 grandfather. Everyone else in my family was killed in the camps. That is my box of sorrow. Where this man has a box filled of a family he did not know about, who saved him as many of our people did by getting him out with a non-Jewish family I have only a box filled with the ashes of the dead. I have a hole in my family. It goes back 2 generations and stops. I understand this man’s pain, but am confused why he’s mad?

    Perhaps I’m not reading this correctly but, His parents sacrificed the thing most dear to them – their child – so that he may have a life. They had to hide who he was or he and the people who raised him wouldn’t be here right now either.

    Also, one other side note. The use of “Yid”, big nose, making lots of money, here again I’m confused. Is this man mad because he’s found out he’s a Jew, like myself, and now embarrassed by it?! Because he seems to have lived his life with these stereotypes in his head of what being a Jew is. I am not rich, I’m not a professional banker, jeweler, and not all people who follow the Jewish faith are Hasidic (חחסידות).

    It seems like this man has lived making fun of the one thing he finds out he is. Again, maybe I’m misreading this, but that’s how it comes across to me. But, it sounds as if he just found out he’s the one thing he’s made fun of his whole life which is where his anger comes from. These people who raised him are his mother and father as well! They did an incredibly brave and beautiful thing, a mitzvah as it were (although to be clear here, a mitzvah is not merely a “good deed/gift”, in reality, there is much more to the word. The simple translation of mitzvah is commandment, but Chasidic (Hasidic/חחסידות) teachings find a deeper meaning in the word. Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which means connection), and if they had been caught doing what they did their fate would have been the same as happened to so very many.

    I truly hope this man finds peace. And I hope someone can explain what I’m misreading here. It is an incredibly brilliant piece and very powerful, but I’m simply left confused and filled with sorrow that this person seems to think all Jews are alike and is embarrassed and mad about this betrayal that’s not a betrayal at all but the biggest act of love possible. Please explain! And again I mean absolutely no offence to anyone AT ALL! I’m just confused and don’t think I’m reading this correctly at all – which is why I’m asking for guidance. Thank you all so very much! Awesome post as always Tony! Shabbat Shalom. Lady Anne ^^ö^^

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lady Anne, I want to thank you for your thoughts on this powerful story, and I do regret the offence that you felt reading it. However, my own reading of this leads me to think that Paol meant no offense at all. Rather, the story seems to strike at the very heart of one’s identity. Who are my real parents? Why wasn’t I told the truth? Who am I really? What does this mean for my life now? I can imagine that such emotionally daunting questions can be quite difficult to answer. I’m glad you were able to embrace the beauty of the writing despite the way it made you feel. Thank you for your openness and honesty about this.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Dear Lady Anne, I wrote this story. I mean no offence. I remember reading Yael Dayan’s book “Dust” and I woke up in the night and wrote it. In the morning I did not remember it. But the thing that got to me was the phrase that is in the Christian “Lord’s Prayer” , ‘forgive us our trespasses’ when the character in the book said that he found it difficult to forgive God for allowing the Holocaust to happen. I wish I had had the chance to get you to read the story before I posted it. You could have helped me to polish it a bit. I will not talk of my relationship with God, or of my Jewishness or Christianises (if there is such a word). Maybe I could write to you personally.

      Liked by 5 people

    • First of all I love your “handle” Lady Anne Boleyn!😊Shalom, I am Ashkenazi, similar background. Yes the story sure wasn’t what I thought it would be! I guess any good storyteller knows how to Evoke emotions in the reader. I have the same exact questions, beautifully written story! I wasn’t crazy about the physical stereotypes etc. although the intelligent stereotypes are fine with me 🙂 there’s nothing wrong with being an achiever and being intelligent and working hard and being successful. Both non-Jews and Jews can achieve this through hard work. I had to look at myself for a minute because I’m a biochemist I’m a former newscaster and I’m in the film industry LOL I got several of the stereo typical industries down pat LOL but really this story was just so touching! I think of his beautiful parents and they remind me of my own ancestery and I’m sure you feel the same or at least similar . I cannot honestly copper hand what they went through. I force myself to know even as a former journalist. Because I want to be able to tell the story to the younger generation. There are still holocaust deniers out there I just can’t believe it. I guess until somebody loses everything including most of their family and they will have empathy. I’m so curious whether the author is really Jewish or not LOL I can’t help that I have to ask! Shalom to all!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Oh ABSOLUTELY Tony I totally understand that And Paol absolutely no offence taken at all! You’ve written an absolutely moving and gripping story! I just knew I was reading it wrong. That’s why I am so very thankful for your responses. We all read things from our own life experiences and sometimes that’s not a good thing. I knew that was the problem here, that while I loved this piece I felt like I was reading that he feels embarrassed by what he found out and angry. So I knew I WAS NOT interpreting this correctly. I can’t thank you enough for responding and showing me that yes, I was allowing my personal history to overshadow what was really being communicated. Thank you so very much! And again my apologies like I stated I meant no offense or disrespect! Thank you, thank you!

      And, I definitely understand what Tony is saying about finding out who you really are vs. who one thought they were. My very good friend of the past 16 years recently asked if they should tell her son that her husband, the man who was with her whole time she was pregnant, in the delivery room, and has raised their son with her, who he’s alwsys known as Dad, wasn’t in fact his biological father. She had been raped and met her husband shortly after she found out she was pregnant. I had told them no. I felt it severed absolutely no purpose plus the obvious trama it would visit in their son to find out what his biological father had done and all the shame that would go with that. “No,” I said, “A father is the man who was there for him all these years through think and thin. The man who loves you unconditionally and taught his son how to be a man.” Oh and there were no underlying health issues so again there really wasn’t a reason. After thinking about what I said, and of course their own thoughts mostly, they’ve decided that they will not tell him. Like my own childhood, the people who I called momma and daddy, might not have been my biological parents, but just because one can produce a sperm and an egg doesn’t make them a parent – AT ALL in my case – but huge difference from Palo, I knew – I was six when they rescued me from what I’ll only say was a horrible existence. So there again I had my own personal history askewing my view/comprehension in what was written. So again I say – Thank you so very much! And again my apologies!! I meant no offense or disrespect! Lady Anne ^^Ö^^

      Liked by 2 people

    • There are absolutely no apologies required, Lady Anne, as it’s clear to me that you meant no harm whatsoever. I have a feeling that Paol will more than happy to discuss this with you. It’s certainly a story that provokes discussion, isn’t it? I’m so glad you visited, and I hope you’ll continue to! (And, I feel honoured that you would share with us a snippet of your personal story.) 😀

      Liked by 2 people

    • I truly am a huge fan, really love your blog and your comic rocks *nerd alert flashes overhead her head* I love to visit your blog so much because people actually discuss things rather then just hitting like – don’t get me wrong, we all like to know someone liked what we posted, but it’s so great to know the why’s for them liking or even disliking something – the fact that you have such an awesome group of folks who follow you that really enjoy to discuss things in a sane, adult manner rather than slamming a person for a different point of view – heck I love to hear all sides and whether it’s something you’ve created or shared, you always post awesomely thought provoking things – like Paol’s work, that I would have very sadly missed out on getting to read this brilliant piece had it not been for you sharing it! Thank you so very much Tony! Lady Anne ^^ö^^

      Liked by 2 people

  2. perhaps the story is not finished yet, brilliant symbolism of the box…it strikes me so deeply recently, after I visited my home region museums in Slovakia, Poland and elsewhere that the stories of the second world war are still very much continuing in our psyches, in your case, it seems hey are far too personal and painful perhaps…for the younger ones like me, we try to empathise and learn, understand. I wrote a little bit about it in my posts Polin, Polin, Six Degrees of Separation and Tainted Wine.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I don’t know what to say except for wow. In school I also learned about the Holocaust, but I guess I never really realized the effect it had on so many innocent people. Sometimes I wonder why do people hate so much, and for no good reason. I don’t understand why we have to define ourselves. Why put each ethnic group inside a box? Aren’t we not all human? Stop searching and dwelling on each other’s differences. I want to be able to come together as we should.

    Liked by 5 people

    • I couldn’t have put it better, and I can completely understand where you’re coming from. Who are we? Where do we come from? And where are we going? These are all questions with answers that hopefully inform what makes up our identity more than hate ever could. Hate leads to nothing.

      Liked by 4 people

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