By SGT Dylan Lashley, USA
Decades ago, a grandmother and her grandson arrived in Budapest, Hungary to check on the family apartment which had remained sealed for quite some time. Shortly after landing in the airport, they hailed a cab to take them to the apartment. They passed the beautiful blue Danube River, but to the grandmother it ran red with the blood of her school friends. Next, they passed the impressive main square, but it was there that the grandmother could still hear her father repeatedly striking his gavel as he ordered the tyrannical prime minister and Arrow Cross Party Leader Ferenc Szálasi to death by hanging. Finally, the cab pulled up to the family residence, a beautiful apartment in the heart of Budapest. But all the grandmother could think of was the day she had been separated from her family and forced into hiding. Was it a dream? Unfortunately it was all too real.
We all hear stories that seem too unbelievable to have actually occurred, but as G-d fearing people we must take a leap of faith and believe. Some people may wonder: How was it possible to survive in Nazi Europe as a Jew, undetected? How did someone survive a death march in Siberia? How could a machine gun miss its target? To each question I respond,“Just ask my grandmother. Or better yet, ask your neighbors with numbers on their arms.” As Jews, G-d chose us and his fighting spirit runs through our blood. Let’s not forget that.
My grandmother had thought that her exodus was difficult and painful, yet the return was somehow even more onerous. Once inside the apartment, I approached my grandmother and presented her with a carved wooden box that I found tucked away under the bureau. She opened the box to find photographs and letters from a lavish time that is now fading into obscurity.
But for my grandmother, it was much more than that. It meant sleepless nights, a stolen childhood, a family that will never return, and a gnawing at the soul. While reading the letters aloud, my grandmother did not shed a tear. How could she? How does one cry for six million?
This question may be answered with a resounding, unequivocal, “We cannot.” There is no way—the tears would have no end. My grandmother loathed being there, surrounded by ghosts. She was an American now. Hungary was the enemy, and like most of Europe, its people had committed the ultimate betrayal against her. As my grandmother began to read these letters, voices were suddenly exhumed from the ashes of Auschwitz, resounding throughout the room and down into the depths of the earth where they were met by a clangorous, vociferous cry.
One letter read: “We will not go to America. We have America here.” Then shortly after, another letter: “G-d be with you. We are in wagons. Save the children. Send them to the nuns.” Lastly, my grandmother found a letter from her own mother that was sent years later, dated 1956, the day of the Hungarian revolution: “Fly, fly, fly little bird toward happiness, because he who has faith in G-d will not be disappointed.” My grandmother did indeed fly away. When she first arrived in America, my grandmother landed at Fort Dix, New Jersey where many refugees of her time settled and still reside to this day. It was there that she found peace and a safe haven.
Years later, after I joined the military, I was assigned my first duty station for the United States Army in Psychological Operations at Fort Dix. I remembered how I used to frequent the local minyan there. However, one day my world was crushed when my religious mentor and confidant, Shlomo, passed away. For a while, I would not so much as step foot in a shul. But as time passed, I re-introduced prayer back into my life, and now it has kept me strong through each new chapter.
Every year when the High Holidays approach, I know that while we have a great deal to repent, we also have many blessings to count. Think of how lucky we are to live in America, land of the free and home of the brave. A place where people put their life on the line every day in order to serve, protect, and defend citizens whom they have never met, in order to uphold our free market society in which we have every opportunity to prosper.
As Jews and Americans, we keep fighting even in the face of adversity. Revisiting my grandmother’s story I am reminded of the Ayn Rand quote “I am, I think, I will.” It is true that people can always start fresh somewhere new, particularly those who are innovative and intellectual. However, the souls of the six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, cannot be brought back. It is only with the birth of Jewish children that this wrong can be rewritten. We are Jews and we survive.
This article was originally published in the Chanukah 2022 issue of the Jewish-American Warrior.