When I was a kid, I mean a little kid, my favorite nurse in my father’s office — he was a doctor — was Mrs. Mindus. I’m not sure how old she was or even how she spelled her name — I was about six and the year was 1950 — but she was a sweet woman and very welcoming to me when I visited the radiology office. She used to bring me crayons and a coloring book and sometimes candy as if I were her own child. The only other things I remember about her were that she spoke with an accent and she had a string of numbers tattooed on her arm.
I wondered what the numbers were. I had never seen anything like that on a grownup’s arm. She explained to me she had been in a concentration camp — Auschwitz — and felt lucky to have gotten out, maybe guilty as well, because the rest of her family had been gassed. My father told me about it too — about Mrs. Mindus’ dead husband and their dead children and so forth. I think he wanted me to know about it.
This was, as you might imagine, hard for a six-year old boy to wrap his mind around. But those macabre numbers on Mrs. Mindus’ arm had a profound effect on me. I thought of them frequently growing up and I think they had some influence on what I did in life, joining up with the civil rights movement at the age of twenty and then later making some movies about the Holocaust.
Often, however, as with many memories, Mrs. Mindus faded from my mind as I enjoyed my life, living la vida artistica, writing novels and films, traveling abroad. Those horrifying events were in the past. It could never happen again. Even when Israel was at war in 1967 and again in 1973 I never really worried. (Later histories by Michael Oren and others have taught me otherwise.) Anti-Semitism was, for the most part anyway, a thing of the past, of concern only to the Anti-Defamation League and similar organizations. They could take care of the rare outbreaks.
How naive I was!
Now more than ever in my life I am haunted by Mrs. Mindus. The tatooed numbers spook me, not because I expect to see friends and family being carted off to the camps, but because I see a world of anti-Semitism metastasizing so quickly across the globe there might not be time for that. From Paris to Caracas, from Brussels to Bangkok we hear chants of Jew-hating as loud, ugly and perhaps even more wide-spread than we did in the 1930s. Paris has even had a new Kristallnacht. And in dear old Blighty, “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas!” goes the cry on the London streets with Jewish Labor Party leader Ed Miliband for all intents and purposes leading the band himself!
Now I am not that naive that I didn’t see this coming. A decade ago, I was in Paris to research a novel I never wrote and was taken to the bainlieu, witnessing firsthand Muslim neighborhoods seething with more hate than anything I had seen on trips to Cairo or even Jenin. The initials NTMJ were scrawled everywhere (short for “nique ta mere, juif” — fuck your mother, Jew). I was aware that “juif” in those Paris suburbs had become a curse word for anything from a broken fountain pen to a lost subway pass.
But I was not prepared for the way the angry curses of the so-called Arab street would be taken up with such alacrity as they are now by the very people who had marched the Jews into the camps in the first place, the Europeans. They include, it now seems, some of the extreme right of old but even more of today’s radical left and supposed center.
Even in America, anti-Semitism is making a dramatic comeback with the Democratic Party (not the Republicans, thankfully, so far), now split between blaming Israel and the Palestinians/Hamas for the current Gaza War, even though hardly any of these self-described “liberals” could begin to debate the obvious truth spoken by Benyamin Netanyahu: “If Palestine were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israel were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel.”
We live in scoundrel times indeed with our government, via its secretary of State, seeking the advice and counsel of Qatar, the very state most responsible for financing the building of the Hamas terror tunnels, at least the part of the financing that was not contributed, covertly or otherwise, by the United Nations. That international organization cried crocodile tears for the impoverished Gazans’ need for more concrete (to murder Jews, as it turns out) while Hamas’ missiles miraculously turn up in UN schools, making murdering Jews yet more simple and convenient.
And then our State Department and presidential advisers like Valerie Jarrett admonish Israel for using excessive force to attack these missiles and launchers hidden in UN facilities when they know full well the IDF is the only army in the history of the world to make such serious efforts NOT to harm civilians. No other is even close.
Yes, we are in a new version of the 1930s with the armageddon of the ’40s around the corner.
Mrs. Mindus, the world owes you an apology. Mrs. Mindus, it’s all a nasty joke come true — the one about the Europeans never forgiving the Jews for Auschwitz. Mrs. Mindus, I feel bad. I never had a chance to say thank you for all the nice things you did for me when I was boy. With all you went through, I am amazed you had it in you.
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