In December 1949, my parents and I arrived in America. I was 3, a “miracle baby” born to two Holocaust survivors who had lost their entire families.

We came to America after five years in a German refugee camp. The organized Jewish community found a small apartment for us and provided bits and pieces of furniture. It was not much, but it was far better than the displaced persons camp, where we’d had to share rooms with two other families, separated only by a blanket for privacy.

Although my parents spoke no English, my father would ask those American Jews who spoke Yiddish whether they understood what he and my mother had experienced and how my parents waited for them, to be saved by them. They did not.

And yet there were those who would listen. We lived in a predominantly African American community, what was commonly called a “ghetto,” a term my parents were more than familiar with, except that their ghetto had been set up by the Nazi occupiers in the Polish city of Lodz. Our American one was a different kind of ghetto with one exception: Everyone around us was poor – but not as poor as we were, financially, linguistically or socially. Our black neighbors could not believe that we had to buy our clothing in thrift shops and had no car.

These same black neighbors, themselves the victims of violence, discrimination and hatred, did their best to help us learn what we needed in order to survive. I remember playing on those streets with black friends and seeing groups of black men sitting and talking, their eyes displaying the destruction of their dignity by a system that I would learn was meant to destroy that dignity and worse.

What was especially important was that a small number of our black neighbors had been in the U.S. military, a segregated military, and had seen firsthand what the Nazis had done to the Jews of Europe. Some had obeyed the order of General Dwight D. Eisenhower that American soldiers should see the bodies – “stacked like cordwood,” in the words of a Jewish soldier from Brooklyn who helped liberate Buchenwald – so that they would understand why this war had been fought.


They also told my father that they had come back from the war convinced that they, like their white comrades in arms, could begin rebuilding their lives and creating the nation that had promised them so much for their service. Instead, they said, they had come back to a nation that did not want to celebrate the great victory with them or give them a chance to rebuild the nation they wanted.

When the coronavirus pandemic ends, our nation will return to a new America, a “new normal,” as some have called it.  Will our nation recognize the black lives lost to the virus, dying in numbers far beyond their percentage of our nation’s population? Will African Americans discover, as did their grandfathers after World War II, that the new normal will simply be a return to the old?

Many have quoted the famous phrase spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the end of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But there was more to that speech, questions our nation must ask after George Floyd and the thousands of others who have died because of hatred and injustice:

“Somebody’s asking, ‘When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?’… ‘When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified and truth buried?’ I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’ ”

How long? And we as a nation must answer: Now.

Comments are no longer available on this story