My Adventure in Cannes
The Power of Multiracial Unity in Everyday Life
By Alan Spector, co-chair, the UUMUAC International Section
On a recent trip to Europe, I met a 40 year old woman, Alexandra, from Romania. She commented that while her family was from Romania, she considered herself Russian since that is her ancestry. Her family religion is Eastern Orthodox.
I commented that ethnicity is more complicated than most people realize and that I knew a woman who was a Persian Jew. Her family came to the United States in 1900 from Iran and while she has some connection to the Holocaust, it is not of the same depth as those of Eastern European Jews who lost family.
Alexandra commented that she had a connection to the Holocaust, so I asked her to tell me about it. Her great grandfather was a liberal politician in Russia, jailed by the Tsar and later released. During the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, he moved the family, including Alexandra's then young grandfather to Romania. As the years passed, her grandfather became a physician but at the start of World War II, the Romanian government made a close alliance with the Nazis and he was sent into the Romanian army as a physician.
Alexandra later found out that the "medical unit" her grandfather served in was responsible for performing sterilization surgeries on Jewish women so that they could serve as sex slaves for Nazi soldiers without bringing any more Jewish children into the world,
Living with this terrible knowledge, some time later she was at an event and was chatting with a Jewish woman about her mother's age, born around 1950. When they exchanged names, the Jewish woman asked if she was related to the doctor in the Romanian army. She commented, nervously, that she was.
The Jewish woman then asked her if she knew what her grandfather did. Alexandra nervously said: "I heard some stories." "Well," said the Jewish woman, "you should know that he refused to do the surgeries. He did some minor cutting on the women and begged them to take all precautions to avoid pregnancy or the Nazis would probably kill him for not following orders." "How do you know this?" asked Alexandra. "Because," said the Jewish woman, "one of the women he was supposed to sterilize later became my mother."
It is easier to be a super-hero when you have super powers. The bravest heroes are those regular people who take great risks to protect the vulnerable. This type of story has happened so many times throughout history -- from those early Romans who protected Christians to the Underground Railroad, to the anti-Nazi struggle, the anti-apartheid struggle, Israelis protecting Palestinians, Hutu protecting Tutsi, Hindus protecting Muslims and thousands more events. We should never lose confidence in the courage and wisdom of everyday people.