By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
When you grow up Jewish, you learn the Holocaust forward and backward. You learn of the 16 million people murdered, 6 million of whom were Jews. You learn about Adolf Eichmann's "Final Solution," and you meet people who actually lived through this atrocity. You learn that these persecuted people weren't criminals, nor were they prisoners. This was a genocide.
When Sean Quinn and Doug tell me about the number 14/88, another number flashes into my head: 27307 -- the number people like them tattooed on my grandmother's forearm at Auschwitz.
Grandma Sally was from Plonsk, Poland. Shortly after the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, she and all the other Jews in Plonsk were imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto. When the Nazis started liquidating the ghettos in 1941, Grandma, along with her parents, her two brothers, and extended family members, were hustled onto the train bound for Auschwitz. She was 19 years old. At the gate, under the sign that read Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes You Free), Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death, sent Grandma Sally to the right line -- the work line. The rest of her family was sent to the left -- to be stripped, shaved, and finally corralled into a warehouse-shower to receive a lethal dose of Zyklon B. That was her entire family. Parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Everyone.
Sally's jobs at Auschwitz ranged from ditch-digging and levee-building to hauling dead bodies from the gas chambers to the giant ovens of the crematoriums. Sometimes a prisoner's only chance of survival hinged on whether he or she had shoes good enough to support laborious work in the harsh Polish winters. One time, in the middle of the night, someone stole her shoes, all but guaranteeing her death, so she improvised: She ripped her prison uniform and wrapped her feet in the shabby, dirty cloth.
An SS guard lambasted her for tearing a Nazi uniform, calling her act sabotage on the German government. She was put in a three-foot-by-five-foot box for four days for her crime. She prayed for death in that steel box, and one hunger-filled day, she had a vision. Her father, who had perished in the gas chambers, came to her wearing his tallith (prayer shawl), crying. He said he was crying because all the family was dead and there was no one left to tell the world what was happening. He told her she must survive and live to tell.
She did survive -- the box, the slave labor, a transfer to the "infirmary" at the Birkenau death camp (an order made by camp commandant Rudolf Hess himself), the death march, and the firebombing of Dresden, which she escaped in a particularly lucky cattle car. When she came to the United States after the war, she met my grandfather, another Polish Jew, who had survived the war by hiding in a righteous Gentile's home.
Once, when I was old enough to ask questions and young enough not to care about being rude, I was sitting with my grandma waiting for the bus outside the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It was summer, and she was wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt. I stared at the tattoo, 27307, etched into her arm.
"What's that on your arm, Grandma?" I asked.
"It's my phone number," she replied, the hint of a smile on her face.
"But why do you have it written on your arm?"
Grandma closed her eyes and tilted her head back, as if retrieving long-lost and almost forgotten information. Then she straightened, opened her eyes, turned her head and regarded me sternly. The smile faded, and she pursed her lips and grabbed my arm with her bony fingers. Her eyes cut holes into mine as she said to me in her heavily accented English: "So I never forget, Adam."
The traffic is brisk at the intersection of Lantana Road and Military Trail on this Sunday afternoon as Sean Quinn and Doug, with their colleagues and sometime sentries, Mike and Smiley, try to spread a little white pride. Smiley and Mike are dressed like typical twentysomethings: an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt and jeans for the former, a white T-shirt and jeans for the latter. But Doug and Quinn are ready for war and are dressed the part of foot soldiers in a combat battalion.
Doug wears black paramilitary pants, black storm trooper boots, and a black polo shirt with a white fist and the letters FWBW sewn over the heart. (It's a play off FUBU, the successful apparel business started by four black entrepreneurs. "FUBU" stands for "For Us, By Us." "FWBW" stands for "For Whites, By Whites.") Quinn has shaved his head since our last meeting; he too sports the commando pants and boots. His black T-shirt bears the same circled white cross, the "White Pride, World Wide" emblem that graced the hat he wore in the park. As a representative of the World Church of the Creator, Quinn is looking for parishioners. Smiley and Mike are not members yet but hope to join in the near future. Doug is just out to do his Lone Wolf thing. All of them carry armloads of printed materials.