Love Your Neighbor


Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



Shunned means to be rejected, ignored, unwanted. Many years  ago, when I was eight years old, Hitler spoke on the German radio and announced that all Jewish students and all teachers were excluded from all German schools. That meant that Jewish grade schoolchildren as well as college students were no longer allowed in any German school. It included professors. A few of these scholars were able to enter the United States and were appointed to the faculty of The New School of Social Research in New York City. The majority were not so lucky and never worked again, but ended in the gas ovens, including some world renowned scientists, artists, and historians.

Hitler made this announcement on the last day of school before the summer vacation. The next day I went into the nearby playground where I had met many other children of my age with whom I played for for some time. Now, as I approached these children, they either ran away or shouted ,"Go away. You are a Jew.” Others screamed, “I don’t know you, Jew,” while some wanted to beat me.

I ran back into my house and cried. My mother gave me a book to read, which in the end led me to read hundreds of books to this very day. This made me a “bookworm,” as I read everything I could get my hands on and finally wrote thirty books myself.

 All summer I did not dare go outside, as I feared the other children who had suddenly turned on me.

This happened long ago, but it never left me. After all these years, I remember that rejection and more horrors which came later. Holocaust survivors live with these experiences for a lifetime.  The only remedy against these nightmares is to keep busy.

By a miracle which I will not discuss, we succeeded to get out of Germany after the Second World War had started, as the German army had invaded Poland. We reached the United States for which I have always been grateful. Nevertheless we were astonished at the reaction of the American Jewish community, which shunned us. That may seem peculiar today, as today we are treated kindly by almost all the Jewish community. Not then. When I was unable to understand and speak Yiddish, I was told to get out of the synagogue, as I was accused of being an arrogant German who doesn’t want to speak Yiddish as "you look down on us."

I made no effort to enter enter any  synagogue (Greek for Assembly) until the High Holy Days. On Rosh Hashanah I went to a nearby shul, but could not enter, as I was confronted by a long table behind which sat a large woman. I tried to circumvent the table; she shoved it into my legs and said something in English I did not understand. In fact, I knew no English.  I just stood there and was dumfounded. I had no idea why this woman would not let me in. Shortly thereafter a couple opened the door, showed something to the fat woman who moved the table and let them in. Since no European congregation sold tickets of admission to any holiday service, it did not enter my mind that here Jews sold admission tickets to participate in the Holy Day services. As I stood there, the fat lady told someone something I did not understand. Then a man came to the door from the inside and using Yiddish told me that I needed a ticket. Since Yiddish is a Germanic language, I understood enough to realize that I could not be admitted as I had no ticket and had no idea how to get one. I spent Rosh Hashanah sitting on a park bench.

Many years later, after I had been discharged from the 94th Infantry of the U.S. Army, I was appointed to the faculty of Buffalo State College. By then I had earned an education paid by the US government according to The Servicemen's Readjustment Act  popularly known as “The GI Bill of Rights.” We joined Temple Emanuel, then located at Colvin and Tacoma streets. Rabbi Isaac Klein, also a veteran of the Second World War, was most friendly, as my wife, Ursula, and I, with three young children, met him there. We joined the congregation and made many friends over many years. My children and grandchildren grew up in Emanuel- Shaarey Zedek - Beth Tzedek.

Then in 2018-2019, everything changed for us. My son in law, Sam Balderman, MD , a heart surgeon, resigned first when it became evident that we were no longer welcome to participate in any activities of the congregation. Sam died of cancer in 2019. As we were shunned like skunks at a picnic, my daughter, her five children, and their spouses, all left the congregation and joined a congregation which welcomed us. No one ever explained why nobody talked to us, why people shunned us and walked away in silence if we tried to speak to anyone, so that even a temporary one year rabbi refused to talk to me. 

Shalom u'vracha.

 Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).

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