my blood lines: a story of slavers and holocaust victims
My mother's side of the family were slave holding southerners. My fathers side were Jewish Holocaust victims. This story is my personal racial history, capped off with my own experiences of guilt, entitlement, and justice.
My name is Sarah. I am 21 years old and I have always lived on islands in New England.
My mother is a nurse, the 4th generation and first woman in her family to work in the medical profession. Her father is a doctor, who worked in Peru for many years, where she partially grew up. He told me once in his old-man Louisiana-accent that "In MY grandfathers day, you didn't have to put on airs to go to medical school OH no. All you needed was $100 for class fees, and your own cadaver for anatomy class." Apparently my great-grandfather paid someone to dig up a freshly dead body for him to pick apart to further his medical knowledge!
My father is a 3rd generation American Jew from Poland/Russia/Lithuania, and his generation was the first in his family to go to college. My middle name may give you a hint, "Schorow" sounds like an old guy clearing a matzo-ball clog from the back of his throat. His ancestors are Jewish about as far back as Moses! He is a lawyer for non-profits and hospitals (he helped start RI's radio station WRNI and if you say MR. WINEBERG to them, they'll all say "Oh What a guy, we just love him over here" so NPR runs in the family too. I'm really proud about that, about how my dad did that. Side story we almost had to sell our house cause he never went to work, he just slaved away doing pro bono work for NPR till our mortgage nearly ate us all up! What a guy.)
Long before that, I remember learning about slavery in elementary school, and how Lincoln freed the slaves and it was ALL JOY and I was so PROUD to be from New England, you know the UNDERGROUND RAIL ROAD! So glad and happy that emancipation was part of my history. Because enslaving black people is clearly REALLY wrong! I went home, and as my mother puttered around the kitchen making me a snack, I told her all about it. She said very offhand, you know, my side of the family is from the South. She looked down into the sour cream and onion dip and I didn't have to ask her, I could tell by the way she didn't look at me: it was True. I buried it deep in my pre-pubescent heart, and confirmed the information later. Our ancestors were slave-holding southerners. My family, my people! They did! They didn't see black people as humans, they were cruel! Callous, heartless, morally deviant slave-holding southerners! They perpetrated and violated the very souls of other sanctified Human beings! I am so ashamed. So ashamed.
When I got older I became obsessed with the Holocaust in Germany. I went to the DC Holocaust Memorial Museum, every year a pilgrimage where I took the metro, ate a polish sausage, and wept in the boxcar, wept looking at the flags, i wept looking at the boxes of shoes and i wept while looking at the convict-outfits some extended family had donated, that they had actually worn in Auschwitz. I wept thinking about the people, all the real, living people and the horrors they endured. I would go back to my grandparents apartment, watch Schindler's List with my father, and take a benedryl before bed so I could fall asleep.
Now, when my father's side emigrated from Eastern Europe, they left just a few years before the Nazi's entered their small town in the dark forests of Lithuania. They left before the Nazis came with their Luftwaffen, their Panzers, their hateful flag of blood and obedience. My great-grandparents left before they had to witness their friends and family rousted from their homes and gathered in the street. Left before they were driven into the woods, and forced to dig a pit. Left before all the people of that town were brutally shot and put in that pit. That town doesn't exist anymore. My people left some family there. Some members of my family are buried in a pit in a Lithuanian forest.
So. Mother side: slave-owners. Fathers side: victims of Holocaust.
What does that make me? I am guilty, yet entitled to the rights of the victim. I feel responsible for the horrific things my family did to other peoples families. I feel angry and righteous about the horrible things done to my family! I am culpable for the crimes commited by my forefathers and I am angry for their sufferings. I feel responsible for crimes committed by people I don't know, before I was even born! Now I know, that doesn't make any sense! I had no control, no voice. But when I hear the screams, coming from both sides, I remember. I'm human. Thats whats wrong.
So I try to live as intentionally and mindfully as I can, trying to think "how will this affect future generations? how may this seem in the past, what are the larger dynamics at stake?" So I sustainably harvest seaweed and dry it on the rails of my sailboat, which I live on. I try to use as many eco-friendly products as I can. I have a composting head (boat toilet) and a solar panel. I make puppets and support the 99% and Planned Parenthood and NPR with my words and actions. I try to broadcast as much love as I can. Lots of love to you Snap Judgement! Thanks for doing what you do and brightening so many days.