Yesterday I wrote a Facebook post where I said “It’s Yom HaShoah / יום השואה and it’s monumentally sad to me this year. It feels futile to fight at the moment.”.
I’ve spent today with my eldest daughter – spoiling her on the last day of her school holiday. It was wonderful – we went to my business meeting together and she ate crisps and drew a picture before asking my colleague about her wedding plans. We had a luxurious brunch. We watched Moana – twice. We made popcorn. We ate pumpkin muffins. We did everything she wanted to do – and I suppose I was surprised that it was so ‘usual’. She wanted something comforting and familiar with her mum.
To be honest, I’m grateful. I am very touched that she just likes doing ‘stuff’ with me. And I needed the connection. It was intimate and calm and warm and sweet. Perfect.
At the end of the day I tucked her and her sister up in bed and she asked me to sing her a lullaby. That lullaby is Edelweiss. I am no Julie Andrews…well, I can say “spit spot, Michael” exactly like Mary Poppins – but that’s another story. Anyway, she finds it comforting because I used to sing it to her when she was a baby.
We sang it together…three times – then she asked me to tell her the now legendary ‘Grandpa’s edelweiss story’. The story is, actually, lovely – so I’m going to share it with you now.
The picture above shows the last three Edelweiss flowers from the bunch that my Grandfather picked and dried before fleeing Austria and the Nazis in 1938.
The SS prized the flowers because they only grow above the cloudline. Only the strongest, most athletic soldiers could withstand the altitude to reach them. He was determined to prove that a Jew could equal them – and best them, in fact.
He mounted a bloom for my Granma, then one for his daughter – my Auntie Prudence – and left this little bunch to me – his granddaughter.
When he died I thought I couldn’t have children. It’s always comforting to imagine that he might have known something that nobody else could have foreseen. Not likely – but comforting, nonetheless.
Now I have two daughters and I’m getting ready to split the last three ‘blossoms of snow’ between us.
It will be our rite of passage – a reminder of good and bad times, when a man found himself having to leave everything he loved but finding contentment eventually.
They are a link between strong women to a wonderful, visionary man – who believed in defying and destroying the mythology of Nazi symbolism – and, more than anything else, the importance of keeping hope foremost in our thoughts.
And he managed that, dear readers, despite the fact that – when he returned to his native country after that abominable conflict – he discovered that every single member of his family had been murdered by the Nazis. Every one of them.
Take a minute to process that… Yet he managed to retain some faith in humanity after everyone he loved had been systematically destroyed by other people. By people who had friends and families of their own – not loners and bloodlusting psychopaths. Incidentally, it’s no accident that I use the term ‘destroyed’ – because it was exactly what the fascists intended to do.
I felt the weight of futility yesterday because it’s happening all over again – most notably in Chechnya where the state has declared war on homosexual men. Their stated aim is to rid the country of gay man before the start of Ramadan. That religious festival falls on May 26th this year- and the state is being both zealous and terrifyingly efficient about their work.
We can try to help. A little does go a long way. If this story teaches me anything, it’s that everyone should do what they can – no matter how insignificant they think it is – to stand up to hate.
Click here to sign the Amnesty International petition to protest this horror.