I remember nothing about Europa Europa (1990), and I wish that I could apologize to Phil Schlossberg who tried to make me watch it.
To prepare for our bar and bat mitzvahs, we attended Hebrew School on Mondays and Wednesdays and Torah School on Sundays. When we took Phil’s class that concentrated mostly on the years of World War II, we were stupid little fifth graders, and we behaved exactly how stupid little fifth graders behave when they’re forced to go to Sunday School. How did this Holocaust survivor, whose arm tattoo is an image that I cannot get out of my head, find the strength to stand in front of a group of such disrespectful, spoiled, little children? We didn’t listen; we didn’t want to be there; we should have tried to absorb every single word that came out of this brave man’s mouth. As I stare now at the word “brave” scribbled in my journal, the tiny five-lettered word just looks skimpy.
Certainly Phil had faced challenges in his life far more frightening than trying to teach groups of overindulged children, challenges that our 11-year-old minds were unable to comprehend. We treated the Holocaust as if it weren’t real; it was nothing more than a word to quiet us down, or perhaps the scariest ghost story that adults could tell children. We never gave Phil the respect, the attention, the recognition, or the gratitude that he deserved. He did what he did long before and long after my peers and I coasted through his classroom, so I can only hope that our disrespect that I remember is either exaggerated or hardly fazed him. The reasons why this has been on my mind should be pretty straightforward, and a part of me is almost thankful that Phil and other survivors of his generation are not around to see what this country has become.
An apology from me to Phil cannot undo how we behaved towards him, but still, I wish that I could tell him that I’m sorry.