Standing on the Wall of Derry: An Irish American Confronts the Irish Conflict

By Storyteller Margaret Burk

Story Summary:

Finding herself on a historical tour of the Wall of Derry in Northern Ireland, Margaret discovers within herself that she is holding on to an ancestral hostility, the kind of hostility that perpetuates hatred, violence and war.  Is this who she wants to be? (more…)

Passing for WASP

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PASSING FOR WASP
By Carol Birch

 

 

Introduction:

Trying to assimilate into another culture is a difficult task. In an effort to fit in with the population in their inner city and later suburban city, storyteller Carol Birch recounts personal experiences she had with this difficult task. The desire to be American has everything to do with uniqueness and nothing to do with being just like everyone else. Listen as Carol shares how her father embraced all of his cultural heritages.

Summary:

Storyteller Carol Birch believes this statement: “To build a bridge from one culture into another and make pluralism a cause for celebration, we have to have one foot firmly planted in who we are.” However, in exploring her Polish and Scottish roots, Carol wonders if she’s really been living what she teaches. Join her as she recalls personal family stories of her cultural background, and celebrate as the family embraces their heritage.

Classroom Reflections & Activities:

  • Have students find out about their own cultural backgrounds, and then share these with the class.
  • Provide time for students to research what a WASP is, and why it is part of American history.
  • Give students an icebreaker activity that allows them to ask about the cultural heritages of the other students. Create a worksheet with a list of things for students to investigate about their fellow classmates, such as: find a student whose cultural heritage speaks Spanish, find a student whose cultural heritage practices a religion different from your own, find a student whose cultural heritage celebrates a holiday you are unfamiliar with, etc. This allows students the opportunity learn about others in a non-threatening way..

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RaceBridges Studio Videos

A White Girl Looks at Race

superohStoryteller Susan O’Halloran weaves three short true stories of her life growing up in Chicago in the 1960s.

The three short stories offered here—“Davy Crockett,” “Us vs. Them,” and “The Dr. King March”—all explore Susan’s experience growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s when the relationship between blacks and whites in the United States were tense and changing quickly.

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(more…)

Ripples: From a Field in Mississippi to General Motors in New York

 

Story Summary:

 April 4, 1968 may have been the end of one dream with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, on that day, another began in a young woman who pushed past despair, journeying from Mississippi to New York City, to discover that the “dream” lived on in her. (more…)

The Immigration Process vs. Pre-Wedding Bliss

By Storyteller Arianna Ross

 

Story Summary:

Listen and move as this spoken word piece takes your mind and body through an insider’s/outsider’s understanding of immigration, identity, and family. The story began when Arianna and her now husband wanted to get married and had to prove, with evidence, that their love for each other was real. Complexity arose as they entered the immigration process better known as: K-1 Non-Immigrant Visa. As they hit barrier after barrier, they quickly learned how unpredictable the U. S. was about immigration. (more…)

A Link in the Circle: Learning to Lean on My Indonesian Family

By Arianna Ross

 

Story Summary:

 What is it like to be so immersed in a culture that a lady on the bus becomes your adopted “Aunt” and a bus driver your “Brother? While Arianna Ross travelled alone through Indonesia, she discovered that sometimes family is defined by a connection and not blood. Many days Arianna lived with only the support of total strangers. Witness the similarities and differences between Arianna’s culture and theirs.  (more…)

Martin and Me – A Coming of Age Story

By Stephen Hobbs

Story Summary:

 Growing up, Steven was involved in Boy Scouts and his church and as a teen he advocated for community development in his New Jersey neighborhood. But could he get involved in the rising black militancy of the late 1960s?  (more…)

The Bus: Traveling from England to India, with the Hells Angels

 

Story Summary:

 As the new Protestant Chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, Geraldine quickly realizes that the midweek Bible service has been overrun by the Crips – a violent, largely African-American gang – and that if something isn’t done quickly the Correctional Officers will close down the service. Going to the root of the problem, Geraldine meets with the head of Crips in her office, but she soon sees that as the two of them are so completely different she will have to establish some common ground before asking for his help with the problem. Will telling him a story of a thug-filled six-week bus trip from London, UK to Delhi, India, that she took decades before, be enough to win his trust? Can the midweek Bible service be saved?

For a print friend version of the transcript, click here:  The-Bus-Traveling-from-England-to-India-with-the-Hells-Angels

Discussion Questions:

  1.  America has more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world (both in number and per capita).  Why do you think this is?
  2. According to an FBI report, in 2011 there were approximately 1.4 million people who were part of gangs, and more than 33,000 gangs were active in the United State.  These numbers have since grown rapidly. What do you think has happened in this country to allow gangs to flourish?
  3. What do you think that you as an individual can do about both of these problems? What do you think that we as a nation can do about both of these problems?

Resources:

  • The Outsiders by E. F. Hutton
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Geraldine. Geraldine Buckley. And in 2007, it never crossed my mind, when I was training to be the chaplain, at the largest men’s prison in Maryland, that after just a few weeks on the job, I would be sitting in my office, across my desk from the leader of the Crips, which is a largely African-American violent gang. And that I would be asking the head of the Crips for his help with a problem.

Well, when that day came, I did what I do best in those situations. After all, you’ve probably realized by now, that I was born and brought up in England. Well, I made him a cup of tea. But I really did have a problem. The midweek Bible service that had about 240 men and…, it had become a meeting place for the gangs, particularly the Crips. Now, the front of the service was fine. That’s where men were opening themselves up to the love and forgiveness of God. And so, they were able to extend that love and forgiveness to other people. Incredible things were happening. But it was just at the back of the chapel that I had such a problem. That’s where the gang members, particularly the Crips, were passing things and they were talking loudly. Well, goodness knows what they were plotting. But they were disturbing the service and I couldn’t have that. And there was another level to this problem, and that is, if the correctional officers realized what a serious gang problem we actually had, they’d close down the service and we might not get it back for months.

Well, I went to the, the head of the, the inmate leaders of the chapel. Ah, we had a church of 600 people behind the walls. And, ah, the leaders, many of them, had theological degrees and I asked them for their input and they suggested that I take all those Crip leaders off the list. In other words, ban them from the service. But I didn’t want to do that, because to my mind, unless they sat under the Word of God, what hope would they have of changing? So, that’s why I decided to go to the root of the problem, which is how I find myself in my office, across my desk from the head of the Crips. Let’s call him El Jefe. Well, he was about thirty-three years of age. He was African-American. He came from Baltimore. And I knew, I only had him in my office for 20 minutes because he’d arrived at half past two and he had to leave by 2:50 in order to get back to his cell in time for count. And if he wasn’t there, he’d be taken off to the segregation unit in chains. I thought, how am I going to establish any common ground, any mutual understanding, or any hope of cooperation, in such a short amount of time.

After all, we were so different. I mean, for a start, he was a man and I’m a woman. He’d been incarcerated for years and he’s got years to go. And I’m relatively new at all this. And then, he was a Crip and I’m a Pentecostal. And then, I had an idea. And I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.” I have, but first of all, I said to him, “Jefe, I think I have a really soft spot for gangs.” Well he was, at the time, he was slumped in his chair and he was gently tapping his fingers on the edge of my desk. And he was looking at me through half-closed eyes and I knew then that he was not buying it. So that’s when I said, “Jefe, let me tell you a story.”

“When I was 21, I went on a bus trip from North Finchley tube station in London to Delhi, India. It was called Budget Bus. It was bright pink. It was decrepit. It was held together with duct tape. But it was cheap. Now, I went for two reasons. First of all, I wanted something on my resume the following year, that would make me really stand out from my, my fellow graduates. And the other thing is I really wanted to irritate my mother.”

“Now, I was really concerned about who my fellow travelling companions were going to be because we would be travelling together for six weeks. We would be eating together by the side of the road. We’d be sleeping in tents together. So, we would in effect, be a mobile travelling capsule. And so, I was very concerned when I first stepped on the bus, and my immediate impression was one of a strong smell of unwashed bodies. Well, I tried hard to not let that show on my face but I looked to see where it was coming from. And it was a small group of men who were very thin, they had hollow eyes, and they had track marks up and down their arms. These were drug addicts. And one of them was going to die on a beach in Sri Lanka.”

Well, I looked over at Jefe, and I’d noticed that he’d stopped drumming his fingers, and he was sitting up straight. Good. I had his attention, so I carried on. “So,” I said, “of the other 25 or 30 other men and women on that bus, there was another man who immediately, I immediately, noticed. he was a small man. He was in his mid-20’s. He had shifty eyes. And he sat right at the back of the bus. And I knew straight away, he was Australian because of his accent, And I found out later that his name was Wayne. Well, from that very first moment of getting on the bus, he kept up a loud, continuous monologue of the filthiest language I have ever heard before or since.”

“And then, there was another group of men who stood out to me. They were wearing denim and leather and chains. They had shaved heads. They were covered in tattoos, and they had a really hard look on their faces. These were the Hell’s Angels. Now, it must be said, that these were English Hell’s Angels, so they were a little more refined than their American counterparts. But they were still Hell’s Angels, and they terrified me. Particularly, their leader who was called Grila. Now, Grila was an enormous man. He couldn’t read or write. He had his name tattooed on his knuckles. G-R-I-L-A. And he had this huge tattoo on his arm of a gravestone with the names of men in it. And I looked at those names and I thought, ‘Are they the names of the men he’s killed?’ Oh, that man, Grilla, absolutely terrified me!”

“Well, that bus was far worse than I could have ever imagined on that first day. Wayne and his new group of friends discovered that down the aisle of the bus, there was a trap door that went down to the road. And when the bus was moving, they would have urinating contests. And if anybody objected, they would turn the flow on them. And then, for some reason, Wayne thought it would be great fun to pick on me. And so, for hour after hour, he kept up another loud monologue describing, in vivid detail, what he imagined I did as extracurricular activity.”

“Well, I was only 21 and this went on for day, after day, after day. Well, one of those days, I was sitting near the back of the blus… back of the bus, playing Scrabble with Wayne’s new girlfriend. She and I shared a tent for the first few days of the bus. Well, he said something really crass to her. Really revolting. And, stupidly, I defended her. So, he pushed me back in my seat. And then, he picked up his big fist to hit me. When all of a sudden, over my shoulder, came an enormous hand and it grabbed Wayne’s wrist. And a voice said, ‘No, you don’t. You’re not hitting women. Not on my turf!’”

And Wayne just crumbled and he said, ‘No!’ He said, ‘Don’t hurt me! Don’t, don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me.’”

“Well, I looked around to see who he was, who’d come to my help. It was Grilla! Grilla had come to help me. Well, that night I was sitting on the bus by myself. All the others were setting up the camp and, and Grilla came to find me. And he was shuffling his feet a bit, and he had his cap in his hand, and he was twisting it, and he kept his eyes on the ground, And he said, ‘Geraldine, I’m really sorry I didn’t do more to help you on that bus today.’ He said, ‘But if we men start eating each other, someone’s going to get killed.’”

“Well, several things happened from that incident. The first thing, was that Wayne kept really quiet at the back of the bus, which was wonderful. And then, that was the first time that I realized that, although it’s best for men and women to work together, sometimes you need a man to stand up and do what’s right. And when that happens, it’s like a key turns in a lock and evil turns to good. And then the other thing that happened was, that Grilla and his group of Hell’s Angels friends, they took me under their wing. And I became the little sister the gang. All very innocent.”

Well, at that moment I looked over at, ah, at Jefe and his eyes were as big as the bottom of s… of buckets. And I said, “I know, isn’t that incredible, Jefe, that a woman who was not long out of a convent boarding school, would end up being the little sister of a gang of hens… Hell’s Angels. But what that meant was, that I got to spend time with them. I got to see who they really were. And I saw that they, they really cared for each other. They had each other’s backs. They were family.”

“So, one day I asked Grilla about that enormous tattoo on his arm, the one of the gravestone with the R.I.P. and the names of men. And he said, “Oh, Geraldine.’ He said, he said, ‘They’re my fallen comrades. They’re my dead friends. If we don’t look out for each other, who will?’”

Well, at that moment, a shadow came across the glass in my office door. It was the correctional officer. And he opened the door. He said, “Chaplain, you’ve got three more minutes with this man, and then he’s got to get back to his cell in time for count.”

I said, “Thank you, officer.” Three minutes. How was I going to get my last point across in such a short amount of time? Tick…tick…tick…And then, I had another idea. I said, “Jefe, you and your, your Hell’s Angels, your, you and your, your Crips friends. You’ve been teaching me such a lot since I’ve been here. You’ve been teaching me about gang warfare and streets and, and gangs. Now, tell me if this is right or not, but from what I understand, you’d never let another gang come in and take your street corner. Is that right?”

He said, “Oh, that’s right, Chaplain.” And he said, “That’s never gonna happen. Never gonna happen.”

I said, “Well, Jefe, this mid-week Bible service, this is our land. The leader of these, this chaplain and mine. And if you continue what you’re doing with your Crip friends, you’re going to draw the attention of the correctional officers. And if you carry on doing it, they’re going to take it away from us. Now, it would break my heart to take you and your fellow gang members off the list. In other words, ban you from the service. But if that’s what I’ve got to do, I’ll do it. Because no one is taking this land away from me.”

And we just stared at each other. Tick, tick. A shadow came across the door in the office and then, and then, Jefe said, “It’s all right, Chaplain.” He said, he said, “I get it. There’ll be no more trouble. I give you my word.”

And you know something? Jefe kept his word from that moment ’til the time I left, two and a half years later. There was no more gang trouble in the Protestant chapel. No more trouble on my turf.

Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman

By Storyteller Pippa White

 

Story Summary:

 In 1991 in Lincoln, Nebraska, a Jewish Cantor and his family were threatened and harassed by the Grand Dragon of the state Ku Klux Klan. Here is the remarkable story of how they dealt with the hatred and bigotry, and, in the process, redeemed a life. Based on the book, Not By the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman, by Kathryn Watterson. (more…)

Loving Someone Tall: A Conversation With My Father About Race

By Laura Packer

 

Story Summary:

When Laura fell in love with Kevin, she was certain her liberal family would love him, too. After all, he was smart, handsome, educated and kind; that his skin was a different color didn’t matter, right? Imagine her surprise when Laura and her father needed to negotiate his discomfort with her sweetheart’s differences.  (more…)

Soul Food in a Southern Swamp: Bumming Fish and Crossing Boundaries

By Storyteller Doug Elliott

 

Story Summary:

After fishermen in the Okefenokee Swamp give Elliott two fierce looking mudfish, he finds himself on a hilarious cross cultural journey learning how to cook the fish, and later meets a number of challenges learning how to tell the tale. (more…)

Worn Out Blinders: A Soldiers Story After D-day in Normandy, France

By Carol Kaufman-Kerman

 

Story Summary:

Talking about World War ll was hard for Carol’s father.  As a recipient of three Purple Hearts, he shares his story of anti-Semitism at boot camp, his sense of Jewish identity with a stranger in Paris and how he mentally stayed strong and survived the front lines by wearing “blinders.”  (more…)

A Window of Beauty: A Story of Courage from the Holocaust

By Nancy Shapiro-Pikelny

 

Story Summary:

 Nancy tells an excerpt from “A Window of Beauty,” a story inspired by the experiences of a young girl, her remarkable teacher and their secret art classes in the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia during World War II. It is a tale of courage, friendship and the power of artistic expression to sustain hope and light the way during the darkest of times.
(more…)

The Restaurant Story: A French American Becomes More Visible

By Michael Parent

 

Story Summary:

As Franco-Americans from Quebec assimilated into the larger Anglo culture in the United States, they became, as a result of that effort, more “invisible.” The story that Michael tells, as Jean-Paul Boisvert, shows a couple’s resistance to that “invisibility.”  (more…)

I Wanted To Be an Indian

By Jo Radner

 

Story Summary:

 Stories about our ancestors help us understand who we are. Encountering troubling revelations about her forebears and their Indian neighbors in colonial New England, Jo asks what it means to tell – and live with – her whole, complex history.   (more…)

Passing for WASP

By Storyteller Carol Birch

 

Story Summary:

 Carol believes this statement: “To build a bridge from one culture into another and make pluralism a cause for celebration, we have to have one foot firmly planted in who we are.” However, in exploring her Polish and Scottish roots, Carol wonders if she’s really been living what she teaches. (more…)

Who is a Friend? German-Jewish Reconciliation After the Holocaust

By Gail Rosen

 

Story Summary:

 Who is my friend and who is my enemy? Gail Rosen, a Jewish storyteller, goes to Germany and makes a surprising connection to a German man who lived through WWII.  (more…)

Penny for Your Thoughts

By Storyteller Diane Ferlatte

 

Story Summary:

While sitting alone in a restaurant having lunch, Ferlatte notices an older white man also eating alone and looking sad and worried. When she tries to be friendly, the man responds with a grunt. Ferlatte starts labeling him in her mind as a “mean old white man.” Later, she corrects her own thinking by reminding herself that she doesn’t know anything about the man. Later, as he leaves the restaurant, the man pours out his story, sharing that his wife of 61 years has recently died. The two end up having a brief conversation, and Ferlatte realizes the importance of reaching across barriers of race, culture, and generations in order focus on the person right in front of you. (more…)

A Twice Saved Life

by Alton Chung

 

Story Summary:

Solly Ganor, a Lithuanian Jew, was a boy when Germany invaded his country in1940. He was eventually sent to Dachau and was rescued by members of the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, the all-Japanese American unit. Fifty years later he once again meets the man who saved him.  (more…)

REMEMBERING LISA DERMAN

By Storyteller Jim May

Story Summary

Lisa Derman, the late president of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Foundation and Holocaust Survivor, died at the Illinois Storytelling Festival (July 2002) while telling her story of survival of the Nazi atrocities in Poland when she was a young girl (http://bit.ly/LisaDerman). She had told this story thousands of times to schoolchildren and other groups all over the country and abroad.

Her words to the audience that day,  “I might not be here much longer but the story must continue on to the next generation; the time will come that you will have to answer the call, and stand up to do the right thing were uttered moments before her sudden fatal heart attack. Lisa died in mid-story, telling the story that had defined her contributions to the fight against anti-Semitism, as well as against genocide the world over.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Remembering-Lisa-Derman

Resources:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood Lessons
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking
  • War

Full Transcript:

For 20 years, I was artistic director of the Illinois Storytelling Festival, which is now in its 25th year. We started in 1984 and very soon in our history, we became committed to the idea that we needed to have elders telling their life stories. Not professional story tellers, just people who had lived interesting lives and had something to say. Civilian story tellers, I always called them.

So that started with some of my uncles and aunts who lived in Spring Grove and then we expanded over the years, and we included anyone we could find with an interesting story and, so, some of our most notable years were when we featured some of the original Tuskegee Airmen who came and told us the stories of their experiences in World War II.

And in 2002 we had invited Holocaust survivors and camp liberators to come and tell in what we called our elders concert or our traditions tent with the idea that almost every family has some kind of storytelling tradition, almost anyone who has walked on this earth has some body of stories that they tell about their life’s experience.

So, it was Sunday afternoon, and Lisa Derman was our storyteller, a Holocaust survivor. She had escaped Poland in her teens, was a resistance fighter during World War II, and she and her husband Aaron had come that warm July day. Lisa had been very active; in fact, she is one of the key people who had lobbied the state legislature in Springfield. I believe Illinois was the first state to require Holocaust Studies, at all middle school and high school levels.

So, a real celebrity, a real power house. She had told the story thousands of times and she told it to us that day. Things started out on a great note; we had a piece of music that Jim Pfitzer a pianist played on a portable piano off stage that was music composed in the ghettos, lyrics and music composed in the ghettos during World War II. It had been translated by Bresnick Perry, another storyteller who was there that same day. There was a real sense of love, all things coming together that day.

And Lisa told her story. In a village in Poland where she and her family lived that was occupied first by German soldiers and then they noticed that a new group of soldiers came with different uniforms and that was the SS, or the equivalent of the SS; I’m not completely sure.

And then the extermination began. And she and her sisters escaped the first wave of it. She talked of running through the woods and hearing the shots and not being sure what they were, and then coming upon a scene in a clearing where 10,000 villagers were machine gunned in seven hours, she said. Her mother, and I believe one of her brothers, were among the group who died that day.

But she and her sister escaped because, while many turned them away, there was a particular Christian woman when her and her sister came to the door of the Christian part of village, she opened the door and said, “You don’t need to tell me why you are here; I know why you are here. God has sent you to the right place.” And she hid them in the spring works under the hide-a-bed.

And that’s how Lisa and her sister survived that first encounter, and at that point she looked at us and she said out to the audience: “There will be a time when all of you will have to stand up and do what is right. The call will come. And you must care and stand up and do what’s right. I may not be here much longer,” she said, “but my story must go on.”

Well moments after that, when she was literally describing her escape and she was, Aaron her husband who was sitting next to her that day in Spring Grove at our storytelling festival, he was just a teenager, that day that they escaped from Poland, that day Aaron was on top of the train car, and Lisa was waiting to catch the next train. Aaron had gotten up on the train, and other people who were helping them escape, there was a Gentile who had organized this.

Lisa said, “I was waiting there, the trains were coming, and I knew, I looked, and I could see the last train, the last car, was coming. I was the last one to grab on to the car. Aaron and others were up on the top, and I had to make a decision that I had to grab one of these, but there was no ladder. But I jumped on that side of the car anyway.”

So she was holding on, apparently to the door latch, and she said, “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I might die.” But she kind of smiled when she remembered. She smiled, “When I heard footsteps, they were coming back for me” or words to that effect, and then she just sort of stopped and put her hand on her chest, looked and Aaron and said, “I hope I’m not having a heart attack,” and then she just nodded her head, and it was over.

It was that sudden and that peaceful. And then we had a fire man, a paramedic, chief of the fire department of Spring Grove in front row and they started CPR and they had a defibrillator there, but the doctor said that she had a massive heart attack right at that moment.

Then after the ambulance left, there were prayers in Hebrew and in English and American sign language, and that spot is a sacred spot to anybody who was there that day. And so the continuation of that story is that the Illinois Storytelling Association, we’re working to raise money to put a bronze with Lisa’s story in that spot.

We have already secured a donation from a nursery for a Burr Oak. We planted it a year later. Not only is planting a tree a Jewish custom, but the Burr Oak tree is what survived the Illinois fires. So the Burr Oak is the survivor of the great fires that used to cross the great plains in the Midwest for centuries and destroy most everything but helped the Burr Oak survive and establish all kinds of beautiful native flowers.

So it is this beauty created after the survival, and we thought that would be appropriate tribute for Lisa. So that’s the story. We are hoping we’ll continue that, that when people come to see that bronze, hear Lisa’s story, they will think about her last words which truly were: the time will come for all of you to care, to answer the call, and to stand up. And when we hear a story like that—and there are thousands—to me there is no more powerful way to move people to action, to move people toward justice and peace.

THE DAY THE NAZIS CAME

by Storyteller Syd Lieberman

 

Story Summary:

 An excerpt from Syd’s book Streets and Alleys, this is a true story of the day the Nazis spoke near Syd’s home at Lovelace Park in Evanston, IL and Syd’s surprising reaction.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  The-Day-the-Nazis-Came

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Is it possible to be emotionally neutral when your family has been hurt by someone else? How do we channel rage in productive ways?
  2. What did Syd discover in himself that surprised him?
  3. What did Syd mean that there were “no victors” during this demonstration? Do you think Syd wishes he had made other choices that day? If Syd could do the day over, what would you advise Syd to do or not do?

Resource:

Themes:

  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Jewish Americans/Jews
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

When the Nazis said they were going to speak at Evanston at Lovelace Park, at first I didn’t think much about it.  They said they were going to march in Skokie a few years earlier and it turned out to be a publicity stunt.  But as the time went on and it seemed like it was actually going to happen, I got more and more upset.  I mean, being a Jew had never been a problem for me.  I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood.  There were synagogues, delicatessens…on High Holiday, school was empty.  Everybody was out.  And when I went to college, I went to Harvard, a liberal community.  Now there was some anti-Semitism there.  There were some final clubs that I couldn’t join but they had a lot of Jews.  And when my wife and I decided to settle down, we picked Evanston – a large Jewish population, a large black population.

And so being a Jew who had never been a problem.

And now the Nazis were going to invade my territory.  Our Rabbi said, “Don’t go there.  We’re gonna have a counter demonstration at the lake.  Don’t give them the honor of a crowd.”  But I had to go.  I didn’t want the Nazis to say, a mile from my house, you can kill Jews!  Now, I didn’t know what I was gonna do.  I’m not a violent man.  I thought, “Well, I could yell; maybe we’d just drown them out so we can’t hear them.”

Now when I got there, you got a 60’s feel first.  I mean, some people were singing, some people were doing horas.  There were groups all over.  Jewish groups; Never Again.  Black groups; the Nazis hated blacks too.  Women’s groups; equality is genderless.  Ecology groups; save the whales.  Everybody marching around with signs.  And a guy walking through the crowd, probably more, there were probably a lot of guys walking through the crowd saying, “Ok.  No violence.  No violence.  You know what we’re going to do.  We’re gonna yell.  When they speak, we’ll drown them out but remember no violence.”  And he walked by me and there was a big guy standing there and he looked at me and he said, “No violence?  Did they say that at Warsaw?  Did they say that in Jerusalem?  You know what I’m gonna do?  As soon as a Nazi begins talking, I’m gonna rush down there and I’m gonna choke him to death.”  And then he walked away.  And then I thought, “There are crazies in every crowd.”

Now as the day went on, it got more and more serious.  More and more police came.  Their cars lined the park.  There was a police helicopter in the air.  And I saw what was going to happen.  There was a maintenance building at the edge of the park.  And I could see that the Nazis could park by it and take up a space in front of it and the maintenance building will cover their back.  And there was like this concrete opening in front of it.  And I figured the police would stand there to protect the Nazis.  So we got the police, the Nazis and the building.  Now when the riot police came, that’s when it got really serious for me.  They came off a bus and they looked like gladiators.  They were wearing helmets and they had shields and clubs.  Then, sure enough, they took up that space in front of the maintenance building.  They had five rows of ten.  I was standing right next to a yellow rope they had used to cordon off the area.  And next to me was this little man and he was talking to himself and he was muttering and finally he looked at me.  And he said, “Look, look, I was in the camps in Germany.  They could do whatever they wanted.  They were in power.  But here… here we’re gonna protect them?”  His wife said, “This America.  Everybody gets to say what they want.”  He says, “I can’t believe.  I can’t believe it.”

Now all of sudden, somebody yelled, “They’re coming!”  And a chat began, “Nazis no, Nazis no, Nazis no!”  And I looked up and you know what I saw? I saw a junker.  A junker.  Its fender was dented, its bumper was tied up with a rope, it was burning oil.  And I thought, “This what we’re so excited about?  Five guys in a junker?”  And then they stepped out.  It was like electricity went through the crowd.  They were wearing Nazi uniforms.  Two were in SS uniforms.  And the chat changed, “Kill the Nazis!  Kill the Nazis!  Kill the Nazis!”  And they did something that… I don’t know… it was like I had seen it before.  They just stood there in a circle ignoring us.  Smoking cigarettes and talking.  And then finally they formed a line and one stepped out with a blowhorn and he began to speak.  Now the crowd got louder and louder but you could still hear that blowhorn over all of our yelling.  Rocks began to fly through the air.  That man with the blowhorn stepped back and everyone cheered.  And then he stepped up again.  He began to speak again, and again we were screaming so loud and yet you could still hear him.  It was as if he was gaining strength from all the hatred around him. And then a brick flew through the air and hit a policeman, knocked him down.  And the chant changed to, “Kill the pigs, kill the pigs, kill the pigs!”

And then, on my left, I saw a guy get under the rope and start to run to the Nazis.  It was that guy!  He got through the first two lines.  I think they were surprised that he would actually do it.  And they clubbed him to the ground when he reached the third line.  And then a second man went under the rope and he was clubbed down.  And then a third and then a fourth and both those were clubbed down.  And then the little man on my right yelled, “Never again!” and he was under the yellow rope.  And his wife, she dove at him, she grabbed his leg.  He was dragging her along the ground.  She was wearing a wig, you know, that was now coming off.  She was yelling, “Stop ’em! Stop ’em!  They’re gonna kill ’em!  They’re gonna kill ’em!”  And I was under the rope… And it wasn’t to save that old man… I wanted to kill the Nazis.  I wanted to take that blowhorn and shove it down the Nazi’s throat… Well, thank God, by the time I reached the police, they knew they had a potential riot on their hands.  And so they had already bundled the Nazis into their car.  And when I hit that first line, the policeman gave me a bear hug.  And he yelled, “Ok.  It’s over. It’s over. Calm down. It’s over.  They’re leaving.”  And I looked up and sure enough, they were driving away. And then in minutes, the crowd left.

They would write this up as a victory.  We had stopped the Nazis from speaking.  But there was no victor on that field.  I knew that, as I stood there shaking from adrenaline in me and feeling the rage, that only victor on this field was hate.  I looked over and the men who’d been clubbed to the ground were leaning against the maintenance building field.  An ambulance had arrived bathing the park with those blue and red lights.  The old man, he was still sitting on the ground.  His wife was smoothing his head.  She kept saying, “It’s ok, it’s ok. It’s over. It’s over.  It’s ok.”  But he didn’t answer her.  He just sat there staring off into space.

Aunt Helen

by Storyteller Syd Lieberman

Story Summary:

In this story a Jewish girl and her friend sneak away from the forced walk of the Nazis toward… they don’t really know. They hide in a haystack and a farmer helps them until the drums toll.  In the face of this innocence, what motivates the Nazi soldier? What compels the farmer to help? What does this story say about the capacity of human beings for good and evil?  (more…)