Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Were there "circumcised Nazis"?

In commenting on my Nov. 23 post, "The man who attended my father's bris," Joared, who publishes a wonderful blog, "Along the Way," raised an interesting question. She wanted to know whether a non-Jewish German who had been circumcised would be condemned to the same fate as the Jews--shipment to a Nazi concentration camp.

(I tried twice to respond to her via a personal e-mail message using her gmail address. According to my own gmail "sent" file, neither message got through to her. There is apparently a technical conflict between my gmail program, which I use only to respond to messages originated by the sender in gmail, and my primary ATT e-mail program. Just another one of those Internet mysteries that cause almost as much frustration and aggravation as pleasure!)

I doubt whether there is any data that would provide an answer to the question. I assume that there were non-Jewish Germans who had been circumcised for medical reasons. I can only speculate that they would have escaped the fate of the Jews if they had official documents showing that they were pure Aryans. Considering the hysteria about a person's genetic background then raging in Nazi Germany, I would guess that such documentation was readily available.

Circumcision was certainly not an issue for the many Muslims fighting as allies along side the German army--Bosnians,Turks, Palestinians, Iraqis, and natives from the Muslim-dominated republics in the former Soviet Union.

Like Jewish boys, Muslim boys are circumcised during religious ceremonies. But unlike Jewish boys, who are circumcised eight days after birth, my understanding is that Muslim boys are circumcised several years after birth-- when they are as old as nine or ten years of age. That is one important advantage that Jewish boys enjoy.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The man who attended my father's "bris"

(For the unitiated: A "bris" is a religious ceremony celebrating the circumcision of Jewish boys eight days after their birth.)

My late father was a bit of a raconteur and loved to tell tales about his early life. One of his favorite stories was about an experience he had as a young man working in a store in a small town in Arkansas. He had overcome the objections of his immigrant parents and had quit an Orthodox Jewish religious seminary in New York City. He was 18 and was determined to seek his fortune elsewhere.

Under circumstances that he never satisfactorily explained to me, he wound up in Pine Bluff, Ark., where he was employed by a Jewish merchant who operated a dry goods store. I haven't heard the retail term "dry goods" in many years, and I am uncertain whether it is still in common usage. But the term refers to sheets, pillow cases, towels and related textile products.

One day a Jewish traveling salesman from New York visited the store. Upon being introduced to my father, the salesman said that my father's surname sounded very familiar to him.

"Where you born?" the salesman asked my father. "And how old are you?"

"I was born in 1897 in Ostrava, near Lomza in Poland," my father responded. (The region was then ruled by Czarist Russia.)

When he heard my father's answers, the salesman became extremely interested in my father's family background. "Was your father a Hasidic rabbi, and did your mother operate a vegetable oil press?" he asked.

My father confirmed that this was indeed the case. The salesman became excited and exclaimed to my father: "I was at your bris!"

He explained that he had been stationed in my father's birthplace, Ostrava, while serving in the Czarist Russian army. The town is located near what was the border with Germany's former territory, East Prussia, and was an important Russian garrison prior to World War I.

Jewish soldiers in the Czarist army were invariably invited to the homes of local Jewish families for Sabbath dinner. The salesman had been a guest in my grandparents' home so often that he was regarded as an honorary member of the family. When my father was born, he was naturally invited to the "bris."

That the ex-Russian soldier encountered my father nearly two decades later in a small town in Arkansas demonstrates that it is indeed, as the cliche has it, "a small world."

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