One day, some 40 years ago, several men came knocking on our family door to collect money on behalf of either the provincial or federal government. I don’t remember which.
They were French speaking bailiffs, who more resembled thugs than they did government representatives. Effectively, their job was to either collect the money owed, or serve my parents notice of seizure, unless of course my parents would pay the amount owing within a predetermined period of time.
I was about 10 or 12 years old then, and my parents were having a tough period. And even though there were many other significant hardships with which my parents had to deal; I will remember this event until the day I die.
Both of my parents were very nervous, and quite timid about this unexpected early evening visit. In fact, they were scared, and terribly humiliated that this was happening before their children. My mother, bless her soul, was a genuine and generous person, and invited them in with an offer to have coffee.
They refused, and preferred to stand in the doorway. My father was very uncomfortable, and demonstrated the type of respect a person does who is being intimidated, as he accepted the Bailiff’s notice and listened to these guys lecture him about not paying his taxes as he should.
He just stood there shaking his head in agreement to their lecture, offering explanations, and more or less apologizing. I can’t begin to tell you how saddened I was to see my father being so emasculated.
But; as the conversation was coming to an end, I saw one of the thugs look at the Mezuzah that was placed on our door frame, as you will find on the door frame of virtually every Jewish home.
And then he told my father; that good Christians didn’t go to war to fight for Jews, only to have people like us not pay our way.
My father asked both of these very large men to please wait a moment as he left to go to another room. They looked somewhat uncomfortable with this, until my dad returned a few seconds later with a piece of paper in one hand, and a ribbon of medals in the other.
When my dad came back to where they were, this time, he didn’t stand at a respectful distance, but right in their face. And the difference in size between either of these two men and my dad was substantial.
My dad asked them if they could read English, and with that he handed them a letter from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who bestowed upon my father the highest award possible for a non Dutch soldier, for bravery above and beyond the call of duty.
The only higher award was reserved for members of the Dutch royal family. He then held out 6 service medals showing that he had served and fought in England, France, Belgium, Italy, The Netherlands and Germany.
My father was decorated many times. He was written up in dispatches, and was wounded during the Battle of Monte Casino. And when he was buried almost 8 years ago, it was in a coffin draped by the Canadian flag, as tribute was paid to him, and to his memory by many of the men who had served and bled with my father overseas. None of whom were Jewish. But all of whom were proud to have known him.
When my father spoke loudly, it was because he was excited. But; when he spoke in a low voice, it meant that he was in a very angry mood. He asked them, if either had served? And in which regiment?
There was silence at the door. Then my father suggested in a very soft voice, that it would be best if both of them left while they could still walk.
I was frozen in fear, waiting for these thugs to start on my dad, but all of sudden, they looked half his size, as they both quietly opened the door and left. This was only the first of three times, I remember seeing my father cry, as he looked down at the medals he held in his hand, which he had won during five years of hell in Nazi Europe.
After all he had been through, to these thugs, he was still nothing more than a “dirty Jew”. And that made him cry.
I learned more about being a Jew, and about being willing to stand up for who and what I am during that exchange, than I have ever learned since. And more than that, this event made me aware that all peaceful and respectful cultures must be defended at all costs.
There is no room for racism in a free and democratic society. And to stand against threats and bigotry is perhaps one of the greatest callings of mankind. Especially when it is not fashionable, and more so when it is rife with risk.
If my father gave me nothing else. His display of courage and strength of conviction at our door, was more important than anything else I could ever imagine.