Aron Beidner was a Holocaust survivor who merited to live to 104.
My father Aron Beidner passed away in August of 2021 of COVID-related pneumonia. He had just celebrated his 104th birthday in July. Everyone said he was blessed with years. I had to agree. Though in my eyes and heart, he was far too young to die. I wrote the following essay and poem while he was still alive. I never felt quite ready to share these reflections until now. In light of recent events around the world and the commemoration Kristallnacht/Night of the Broken Glass, I feel they hold greater significance and a more sacred place in the world. I respectfully share them with you.
I have been revising and editing this draft for the past two months. I want to get it just right. But right for whom? I am painfully familiar with its themes. I expect others to recognize them, as well. But what seems to be the obvious, unfortunately escapes others’ understanding or at least awareness of a major societal problem that needs to be addressed. As I struggle to begin, I look for inspiration, which sadly has been lacking, recently. From where I sit, all I see is anger, frustration, and disgust.
My father’s name is Aron. He is 103 years young. He has been living with us since my mother’s death, almost three years ago. At that time, I made the decision to have him move in with us. It hasn’t been easy. Frankly, it would have been more practical to transfer him to an assisted type of facility where I could visit occasionally and go on with the rest of daily life in relative peace. But in my heart, I knew that was not possible.
My father’s memory has been steadily fading, and with each day’s passing, another link was lost. As his only surviving child, I knew that my responsibilities lie in providing connections to his past so crucial to maintaining his dignity and identity. That identity speaks to a life of a proud Jew, one whose scholarly pursuits revolved around the daily study of the Torah and Talmud, one whose rich cantorial voice captivated synagogue congregants with soulful liturgical services, and one who lovingly, continues to wear his talis and t’filin for morning prayers and his yarmulka, daily.
As I watch my father carefully wind the strap of the t’filin shel yad around his left arm, I am acutely aware of the tattooed number bulging between its gaps.
My father is a Holocaust survivor, the lone surviving member of a large family that perished under man’s unforgiveable sin against humanity, a time of inexplicable crimes and horrors, a time seared into my father’s memory, a time I’ve always wanted to forget.
I grew up listening to the “stories” of the Holocaust every day of my life, from a young child all the way to adulthood – so much so, that I came to resent them. I saw them as intrusive. I wanted things to be “normal” and they magnified a darker side of life that I was not prepared to face.
But that was then, and this is now.
In face of the recent rise of anti-Semitic attacks worldwide, in particular in the United States, I am prepared to speak. But who will listen?
Not those who hang on to every word of irresponsible rhetoric from so called celebrities, in an effort to sound “enlightened.” Not those whose political platforms seemingly espouse justice for all, but who blatantly disregard opportunities to educate themselves about seminal historical events, in an effort to appear balanced. Not those who are members of the very group targeted in these hate crimes, but who choose to distance themselves and create new narratives, in an effort to feel morally superior. And certainly not those who sit in unconscionable silence, while hard-won freedoms are literally being trampled upon, in an effort to feel protected and politically correct.
How do I convey the seriousness of this issue, the harsh parallels it evokes, and the ramifications for all who refuse to “listen?” Maybe, you will better understand, through the eyes of one who knows.
As I look into my father’s eyes, which at times don’t recognize me, and try to elicit stories of the Holocaust, which he barely remembers, I realize how significant those experiences are to my identity as a Jew, but more importantly as a human being. I am compelled to remember.
As I look into my father’s eyes, I see his brother desperately calling for him as they got separated, during the selection process. Life or death sealed with the flick of a finger. A truly obscene gesture! I am compelled to remember.
As I look into my father’s eyes, I see him looking straight into the eyes of a murderer, a man whose sole mission, in the perversely evil world of that time, was to kill my father simply because he was a Jew. That identity so despised and devalued, as to be considered subhuman. I am compelled to remember.
As I look into my father’s eyes, I see his child grabbed from his mother’s arms and thrown to the ground, discarded like a piece of trash. For his hater, one less problem to dispose of, for my father, one more person to mourn. I am compelled to remember.
As I look into my father’s eyes, I see the breathless terror at being discovered each of the three times he managed to escape a transport headed for the gas chambers. I am compelled to remember.
As I look into my father’s eyes, I see him face to face with his captor, a hunter willing to “devour his prey,” my father praying for a miracle. I am compelled to remember.
As I look into my father’s eyes, I see a ray of “blinding light,” one that shielded my father from his captor’s recognition, leading him to safety for a brief moment. I am compelled to remember.
As I look into my father’s eyes, I see a person with fierce determination to hold fast to life, to his identity as a proud Jew, and to his fundamental rights as a human being.
We are compelled to remember!
To my father, z”l: a promise. Your eyes are my eyes. I am a proud Jew. I will never forget.
By Irene Reinhard