They Put Her In a Gas Chamber

Like many Israelis, I work in the hi-tech world. More and more, there are less and less cyber-borders. In minutes we bridge the gap of thousands of miles to sit and chat with someone in India, Iceland, the US, and Germany.

When the hi-tech boom burst in 2001, a company in Israel fired almost all of its personnel…and hired me. I’ve been there ever since. At some point, they purchased a company in the US that did similar things and by merging, they hoped to expand and enrich the technological offerings of the new-larger company. I was asked to work on their documentation and added it to the responsibilities I had. When needed, I brought in extra help; otherwise, I’m their documentation team. More recently, they bought a company in Iceland, another in the US, and one in Germany.

My mother-in-law was a teenager when the Nazis came into her small town on the Hungarian-Czechoslovakian border. They took her oldest brother and his new wife first. Then they came back and took the rest. They murdered her grandparents, uncles and aunts. They murdered her father, her mother, a young sister and a second brother. 

They put her and her sister in a gas chamber and closed the door…seconds must have seemed like forever standing there naked and in the dark. And then…the Nazi guards opened the door because they needed a few more women for a work detail and she and one sister were pulled out. Those who were left behind, became part of the six million.

When hi-tech companies merge, you have to evaluate the strengths of each of the components. What is done where – and does it have to be done twice. Apparently, I am the company’s lone technical writer and so now I meet not just with  Israeli engineers but with teams in far off lands. It’s quite cool, actually. I go into one of three video-conferencing rooms, access a joint meeting room, and have a meeting with someone in a different time zone. We sit across the world, as once people sat across a table. No delays, no interruptions.

He can share his screen so I can see what he is working; I can share mine. We hear, we see, we talk. We plan for the week, discuss the company, what documents will be needed, the overall flow of information and the constant need to improve communication between development and documentation. Sometimes we speak of an upcoming holiday when one or the other will not be in. The more he speaks, in his pleasant and calm German accent, the more my brain thinks in Hebrew. I force myself to speak English only – it’s quite funny because English is the language of my birth, but not my heart. I can express things in English that fail in Hebrew simply because English remains my mother-tongue. But in those moments when I understand Hebrew is impossible to use, it is Hebrew that fills my brain.

They put her in a gas chamber; this gentle woman who had never hurt anyone. And when she came out of the war, she came back to find one sister and one brother and a cousin that became her husband. A few other cousins returned – a young generation whose foundations had been stolen from them. No parents, no aunts, no uncles, no grandparents. They were a group of young people – early twenties at most but they were all the family they had. He bought a house for all of them to live in and when she said it was time for her to move on and find some work, he hired her to clean his big house and then quietly warned everyone not to make a mess so she would not have to work too hard. They moved to America because it was the only country that would give all of them visas, and she brought four children into the world. And if they, like she, were scarred a bit, it wasn’t her fault. How could she not be? How could they not be?

He is very polite, very intelligent, very practical, and very aware of the needs of the company. It is a pleasure to work with someone who values what I do and sees the benefit of it. Technical writing is a precise craft. Errors and inconsistencies confuse the user. He appreciates this where most see it as a bit extreme and absurd.

More, he appreciates the knowledge I have accumulated in this field over the last two decades. I ask for an upgrade and feel I have to explain why purchasing the latest version of a software tool will make my work easier and more efficient. Within minutes, he gets the purchase approved. He is a dream to work with for any technical writer, and he speaks with a German accent.

It’s been 70 years…70 years since they put her in the gas chamber. She died 19 years ago. She lived to see and hold three of my children; my youngest daughter carries her name, her grace, and even her eyes. My daughter, all my children, live in a world so far from the one where my mother-in-law was born. Never, never in a million years, could a Hitler do today what was done then. Not because he wouldn’t try, but because we would not let him. The might of our army, our sons, stands, flies, guards, and sails for all of us.

For all the years of my marriage, I have not bought things made in Germany. People say I am punishing the wrong people; that today’s Germans did nothing wrong. They are right…but so am I. While my mother-in-law lived, I brought nothing German into my home. How could I? Would I buy a German oven? The thought sickens me.

They put her in a gas chamber; murdered almost all that she loved. She gave her children their names, where she could. I named my first son for her older brother; my next son for my father-in-law’s younger brother, who was also murdered.

Why should today’s Germany be blamed? Without doubt, they should not be. Why should they be scarred for the wounds inflicted by their grandparents and great-grandparents?

Ah, finally, there is the question. Why should we be scarred? My children know where their names come from; know what was done to their grandmother. We aren’t yet talking about some distant relative generations back – we are talking about their grandmother. My husband never knew a grandparents love because the Nazis murdered all four of them long before he was born.

And this man that I meet with each week speaks with the same accent. And so here in this world so far from my job I can admit that it is hard for me. Hard to hear the accent. It isn’t his fault; but it isn’t mine either.

One of the Israeli managers flew to a meeting in Germany. During friendly discussions, one of the Germans asked her what Israel was doing in Gaza and said it was wrong for Israel to create concentration camps there. I asked her what she answered as the anger welled up inside me. She said nothing, ignored the comment. I would never have been able to show such restraint.

Concentration camps in Gaza? No, not even close. No one is putting Palestinians into gas chambers as my mother-in-law was put and no one paid my father-in-law or my mother-in-law for the back-breaking work they were forced to do. It was be a slave for the Nazis or die. Palestinians who work for Israelis are paid and many live like kings in large homes, have nice cars, and several phones on their belts.

My mother-in-law lived on rations that barely kept her alive; Palestinian stores are full of candies, meats, vegetables and more.

If someone got sick in the Nazi death camps, they had to keep working and hide their illness, especially the young ones. Palestinians who need advanced medical procedures often come to Israeli hospitals for treatment, especially the young ones.

So each week I go to my meeting and wonder if this will be the week that my heart breaks free and asks – were you the one who compared Gaza to a German concentration camp? Was your grandfather the Nazi who murdered my husband’s grandfather? Are you scarred from what your nation did, as mine is from having it done to us? If my husband is scarred and my children are scarred, why shouldn’t you be scarred to?

It is ultimately, like that huge pink elephant sitting in the room. We finish our meeting, wish each other well. We smile, genuinely smile, when we greet each other or laugh over the latest changes in the company.  I genuinely like him and maybe if he comes to Israel, I’ll offer to take him around and show him some of the amazing things we have built and in the midst of our meetings, I’ll listen to his words, not his accent.

They put her in a gas chamber; murdered almost all that she loved.

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