I watched in horror as developments of the heinous attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue unfolded on TV. This gut-wrenching, violent murder of innocent civilians hit me in a particularly personal way — I am an 83-year-old survivor of anti-Semitic persecution by the Nazis in World War II. The events of only 70 short years ago still seem like yesterday. It is only thanks to the heartfelt compassion of the courageous residents of a small Slovak village called Jelenec that my family survived the Holocaust. The Pittsburgh synagogue attack of Oct. 27 is a painful reminder that the centuries-old vile, bloodthirsty hatred of Jews is alive and well today.
Words cannot adequately describe my revulsion at the cold-blooded murder of those 11 innocent individuals. What do these 11 people sitting in the pews of a Pittsburgh synagogue have to do with the grievances against particular politicians and organizations that the shooter reportedly had?
Our democratic marketplace has a forum to express such grievances in a civil and productive way. His alleged grievances are only a pretext for his blatant, hateful and inexcusable anti-Semitism. Nearly a century has passed since the Nazis launched their hateful lie-based propaganda campaign against European Jews, but this rhetoric has been the undercurrent during much of history. Throughout centuries, grievances of this conspiratorial nature have led to bloody massacres of Jews, not unlike this one. Today, too, this incident underscores that the crust of civilization is thin.
Against all odds, I now live in the greatest country in the world, one where minorities are safe from discrimination and persecution — and the Jews are no exception. Events like these are scandalous, not state-encouraged; today, thankfully, they are indeed the exception, not the rule.
We tend to take our relatively and uniquely safe environment for granted. Throughout history in all corners of the world, Jews have been seen as the consummate evil and an attack such as this one would not have been overwhelmingly decried by societies, as it is today. This is why the Slovak village that offered refuge to my family is particularly remarkable, because it was at a time when the world turned against the Jews.
I hope to commemorate my eternal gratitude to the principled compassion of the Catholic families in Jelenec, Slovakia. Their unparalleled courage in the face of unspeakable danger and their extraordinary kindness saved the lives of numerous families, including mine. My evolving manuscript that tells this story, as well as nascent movie plans of my personal memoir of survival, describes an extraordinary journey from a forced labor camp to Jelenec to America. More importantly, it pays grateful homage to the extraordinary priest and his determined parishioners, who risked everything to save several Jewish families during one of the darkest hours of human history.
We thought we saw the end to anti-Semitism at the end of World War II, but tragically it has reared its ugly head once again. JN
Klara Klein Sever is a Holocaust survivor and author of an upcoming memoir and movie, “A Higher Authority.” Elena Suhir is an independent adviser on democracy in Eurasia. Preliminary filming for the epilogue of Sever’s docudrama has already begun in Slovakia.