Lest We Forget

a touring exhibition of visual art and prose vignettes illustrating the early years of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany
and the refugee experience.

Spelling Lessons

 A-U-S-T-E-R-E. Miss Christie explains during the first week of sixth grade, “Severely simple. Poor people have an austere diet.” I conjure up memories of our last years in Germany. I understand “austere diet.”

I stay behind when the Christian children go for religious instruction. Miss Christie, with that C-H-R-I-S-T in her name, leans close.

 “How do you feel being left behind?”

“I’m Jewish,” I explain. She knows. Jewish is written on my forehead just as plain as the numbers on Auschwitz survivors’ left arms.

“How do you feel?”

“Lonely. Different. Both.”

“How does different feel?”

The war has just ended. I’m different from the Jews who were butchered and I’m different from my classmates.

 “Let’s not call it ‘different. Let’s call it ‘special,’” says Miss Christie as we end the school day.

After school I’m invited to turn rope so that the girl I replace can jump.

A boy taunts me with “sissy.” Albert embellishes with “sissy Jew boy.” Others add “dirty Jew” or “dirty Hun.” I’m both the German enemy and the “dirty Jew.”
Albert punches me in the stomach. I drop the rope. He punches me in the chest. I haven’t moved. “Sissy Jew boy,” he repeats. He tackles me. I grab his arm and twist him around.

“You’re breaking my arm,” Albert whimpers. I don’t hear him. In my head Miss Christie says, “Special is worth defending.”

I place my right arm under Albert’s chin and reach for my left shoulder. I squeeze. I recall, “How does it feel to be an outsider?”

“Anger,” my brain says. “Rage.” I squeeze Albert’s throat harder. “Fury.” I spell all the words as if in a spelling bee.

Once, in a comic book, I read about a stranglehold.

Some older boys are pulling on me. “Fred, you’re killing him.”

I let Albert slump to the ground. The right sleeve of my white shirt is covered with blood from Albert’s nose and mouth. I don’t want to kill anyone. They killed six million. I don’t want to be like them.

When I tell Miss Christie what happened, she reassures, “Special is worth defending.”

Click on the art to see an enlarged image.