Odd reflections, that go back to to being maybe 5 years old, and another one of those seminal memories involving the Cairo Cafe, in San Francisco. We are eating dinner there, and I am watching, fascinated, as a man at another table, having finished his meal, is now picking up every grain of rice and eating it. Even more interesting, I notice black tattooed numbers on his arm, a little above the wrist. "Look Mommy, that man has numbers on his arm."
She tells me to keep my voice down, and lowers hers to a hushed tone. "It means he was in a concentration camp. That's where the Nazis put people who were different. They starved them and killed them. He has numbers because they treated them like animals."
I remember thinking that this man didn't look "different," and that's when I started really wondering about the Nazis, and people in general who were out after people who were "different." It might explain why, all through grade school, I immediately broke off friendships with popular people who put down, mocked, or abused those who were "different," because I instinctively knew them as people who could not be trusted.
Over time, I met people personally touched by the genocide in the camps. My best friend in Junior High had lost two grandparents and a couple uncles in the camps. Her mother came from gypsy stock, and had lost a couple relatives. Most recently, an acquaintance explained that she always gives a Thanksgiving for people with no families because of her personal situation, with both parents being killed in the concentration camps. It seems that they were German intellectuals who opposed the Nazis. Family friends hid her, then smuggled her out of Germany when the Nazis came for her parents.
It has constantly amazed me that the holocaust denialists even exist, because my life has intersected with so many people personally affected. But that's a reason that the memories must be kept alive, to remember how quickly these things can engulf an entire society, and how precarious life and liberty really are.