By Carl King
Until a few weeks ago, my thoughts of Pittsburgh were always good ones. Having spent my youth in Western Pennsylvania, I have fond memories of driving through mining towns, past strings of coke ovens and then along the river and the steel mills to visit a great aunt who wrote for the newspaper there; later of attending Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games at old Forbes Field in the days before they won that great World Series against the Yankees; and of driving high school friends to see Louis Armstrong in concert.
That all changed, of course, several weeks ago. Now my thoughts are of 11 souls who died because they gathered in their house of worship to celebrate the Sabbath. For days I watched on the news or read about on social media, interfaith gatherings across the nation and especially in the Massachusetts I left to come to retire on the south coast of Oregon. And then it struck me — no one here on the south coast of Oregon seemed to care about those 11 souls. There were no gatherings, no interfaith services listed in the press, no discussion on social media, no mention as asides at meetings I attended. If any of these things happened I missed them.
I asked a friend who has been here much longer than we have why, and I was told this gathering together as a community to mourn these Jewish souls was an East Coast thing, that Oregonians had had different life experiences and didn’t understand why the murder in 2018 of an elderly woman who had survived the Holocaust should matter to them. Let me share with you why it matters to me and why I hope it may actually matter to you.
My first encounter with a survivor came one evening when a group of us were sitting around talking about the Vietnam War. We all were complimenting our hostess for the food when she told of the times when she and her younger sister were in the camps and they would try to ignore the hunger by making up recipes. It was then I noticed that the mark on her arm was not a bit of dirt but a tattooed number, her number in the German registry for undesirables.
About the same time, I was dealing with a lawyer, negotiating a dispute over one of the then-new coffee shop franchises. I thought things were getting rather unpleasant. Bob mentioned how much more pleasant our heated talks were then his usual legal work, seeking reparations for those few who had survived the camps and made it into our country. He said they all had two things in common. They all had tattoos and they all looked years older than they actually were.
Some years later an electrical contractor we represented in court matters stopped by unexpectedly. He was in the office to do estate plans for himself and his wife. They were planning a trip and didn’t want to leave behind any loose ends should something happen to him. I knew they had no children, so I started to go through the relatives who would inherit his company if they didn’t have wills when he stopped me. It wasn’t just that they had no children. They had no relatives, none at all, for no one else in both their families had survived the Final Solution.
And so when I think of Pittsburgh today, I think of two little girls trying to survive by thinking of food, of folks too old before their time, of those who go through life without a family and of 11Jewish souls in Pittsburgh who died because not just in the 1930s and early 1940s but today in 2018 we who are not Jewish didn’t speak up to stop the hatred that made it possible for Pittsburgh to happen.
Carl King lives in Gold Beach.