Sunday, May 10, 2009

Equal Means Equal-A Mother's Day Tribute

Equal Means Equal

A Mother’s Day Reflection

Frania Klarfeld 1923-2006


My mother, Frania Klarfeld was a Holocaust survivor. No matter what she did past the age of 14 when she was placed in the first of three concentration camps in Poland, she will forever be remembered by her family and community as one of the surviving victims of history’s most horrific case of discrimination and bigotry.

On this Mother’s Day it is customary to thank your mother whether in person or spiritually for all the lessons learned and promises made and kept. My mother, like many in suburban cities of the 1950’s raised a family, helped her husband in business and later was the matriarch of the Klarfeld family to her sons, daughters, and grandchildren.

We are all born into some story, with its particular background scenery, that affects our physical, emotional, social and spiritual growth. In the case of children of Holocaust survivors, the background story tends to be either a stifled mystery or overflowing with traumatic information. In the first case the child may feel drained and in the second case overwhelmed. 

I remember the first time I asked my mother about her life in the camps. I must have been seven or eight at the time. The first thing she mentioned and I don’t know if it was a premonition or just random fact, was that Hitler first came for the gays, the homosexuals, and then the Jews. At age 14, when girls were supposed to were supposed to have romance and budding youth on their minds, my mother was stamped a second-class citizen, or worse, and was no longer allowed to go to school, play in the park, or associate with her non-Jewish friends. She told me then that she always felt ‘different’ ‘out of place’ and that would remain with her the rest of her life. How amazing that this parallels my own life as a gay man growing up in the 1960’s. Another early remembrance was of her was shopping at Woolworths in downtown St. Louis in 1956 and her being aghast at separate drinking fountains for ‘colored’. “What color?” was her question. She knew the signs of “Juden Verboten” and “whites only” were only a few letters apart. 

We remember our parents not by sweeping generalizations but by moments; moments that are seared in our inner story that bubble up at important and spontaneous times in our everyday lives. The ‘moment’ I want to share with you on this Mother’s Day is one of “Equal Means Equal.” In 2003 I introduced my mother to my new partner, Grover Lawlis. She hugged him and said to him, “I see that Nathan loves you in his I love you too.” Later that year she sent him a birthday card, a simple one that said “Happy Birthday to my Son-In-Law” with a check (the same amount she gave me every birthday). A year later on a visit to Florida she taught him to make her famous strudel, a family tradition passed on to each daughter-in-law and now her first son-in-law. When she passed away in 2006 at her funeral, directed by an observant orthodox rabbi, a place was set for my gay partner in the front row with the other relatives. She would have wanted nothing else.


Happy Mother’s Day Mom, to promises made and kept.


Equal Means Equal


Have a peaceful week.

Nate Klarfeld




1 comment:

  1. Frania is my real mother. She truly loved me as
    a son. My biological mother is lying in bed at home in a coma today after her fourth stroke. She was physically and emotionally abusive and incapable of loving. I have only faint feelings of loss for her. My Jewish mother is the one I love and am thinking about today. I really miss her.