Sunday, October 28, 2018

Tree of Life: a massacre of the aged.

When I saw that the names of those who died in yesterday's mass murder at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh had been published, I turned to it with trepidation. "Any children, teenagers, young parents?" I wondered. There were none of those, but what I found was deeply saddening in another way. The youngest victims were two brothers, Cecil and David Rosenthal, both in their fifties. There were several people in their sixties and seventies, and three in their eighties, including a married couple, Bernice and Sylvan Simon. The oldest was Rose Mallinger, 97. The full list is here.

By coincidence, this afternoon my wife and I attended a memorial service for a woman we had known for years at Grace Church and through events at the Beaux Arts Society. She was 97 when she died. She had suffered illness for some time before her death, but she passed peacefully, in the company of her son, daughter, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, all of whom gave moving testimonials at the service to her loving effect on their lives.

Hearing that our friend was 97 at her death made me think of Rose Mallinger. She would have been a young adult at the time of the Holocaust, though she may have passed that time in the safety of Pittsburgh. If so, she would have learned about it later. perhaps not until several years after VE Day. I have a copy of Life magazine's Picture History of World War II, published in 1950, which includes a photo taken in a just liberated Nazi concentration camp, that shows emaciated bodies in a heap. The caption describes them as "people Hitler didn't like." The notion that Jews were the principal, though not the sole, victims of the Nazi extermination program, was slow to be publicized. Rose may have learned early on, by informal channels of communication through family members who escaped in time. However and whenever she learned, she almost certainly felt a mixture of profound sorrow and relief that she had passed that time in a safe place.

What were her last few moments like? Hearing gunshots, trying to urge her aged frame to safety, the searing pain as the bullet, or bullets, invaded her body. What was her last thought? I can't imagine. I do know she was denied the death our friend had, and those who loved her, as I'm sure there were many, were denied the chance to be with her in her last moments.

Image: "The Kaddish Prayer" in My Jewish Learning.