On March 7, 1945, the 104th Signal Company of the U.S. Army 104th Infantry Division entered and liberated Cologne, Germany. They removed the Nazi flag from the German Wehrmacht headquarters. On a bright, hot day near the end of September 2016, this flag was handed to me; it was housed in a beautifully embroidered cotton pillowcase, perhaps from a trousseau, where it had been for many years, stored in the attic of one of the liberators. The person who gave me the flag actually shivered with relief when I took it. I was aware from our previous conversations that this person had bravely removed the flag from a relative who wanted to sell it online for the thousands of dollars that he perceived it was worth. I had already conversed with Bryan Davis, executive director of Tucson’s Holocaust History Center, about the flag, which he will send to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D. C.
From the moment I took hold of the flag to this very moment, I have been aware of its presence, its menace, and its meaning. I planned to take it to our Holocaust Heritage Center on Kristallnacht and thus send it on its way to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I decided to address the flag on voting day. To prepare for this moment, I first unfurled, blessed and wrapped myself in “my flag,” my white tallis with its black stripes, my prayer shawl. The first time I davened wearing it was on the train tracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau at the selection site. It was November in Poland; it was an icy, frozen, bitter cold. My tallis was billowing around me; I was anchored on each side by a loved one, my husband, Jack, and my oldest son, Joshua, who was wearing his bar mitzvah tallis with its bright, bold stripes of blue. We were davening the morning Amidah; the only sounds other than our whispered prayers were the voices of our group where they stood behind us, one person at a time reading the names of Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz. The shout of the wind would suddenly penetrate our sorrow with blasts of air, reminding us of where we stood all bundled up in down coats, our protection from the weather … but not from what happened there. There is no protection from the murder, the cruelty, the horror of Auschwitz; the only response that I know deeply in my neshamah, my soul, is to stand up against cruelty, anti-Semitism, violence, prejudice and bigotry wherever and whenever we encounter these horrors.
To the Nazi flag on voting day: I stand before you a strong, determined Jewish woman addressing you where you lie, wrinkled and wadded up in that bag. I wish I could say that you don’t frighten me, but on the contrary, you do. I am all too aware that there are people who would grab the chance to hoist you high and rally around you once again. But I am standing here with my tsitsit, these knotted fringes, clasped in my hand. I am a barrier of hope, mitzvot (commandments) and promise. I will never let you be raised again. That is my sacred vow, my word and my undertaking. I will not let despair, violence and hatred prevail. Every morning with Modah Ani, I am grateful, on my lips, I will greet the day I was gifted by The Holy One to do the work that needs to be done to make this world a prejudice-free zone, an earth free of violence, anti-Semitism, and hatred.
Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav taught, “Sometimes one person speaks in one corner of the world and another person speaks in another corner of the world or one person speaks in one century and another person speaks in another century, and G-d, who is above time and space, hears the words of them both and connects them.” May the Holy One connect what I speak here to others who also speak in this corner of the world and to other people who speak in other corners of the world, link us across time and centuries, bring us together to do this sacred work.