Ever since my teenage years, most people have told me of how much I resemble my paternal grandfather, Georg. At first, I did not believe it, but after going through old black and white photographs, it is actually true. However, that resemblance has somehow started fading away as I am older than my grandfather was when he passed on. Back in 1938, as Hitler was taking over Austria, Georg used to be a Viennese family physician that was successful. In addition, he had two children and was married to my grandmother, Elsa, who was temperamental. Georg was fully Jewish while my grandmother was half-Jewish. The family was not religious at all having been assimilated to the glittering Austrian capital and its culture.
When Hitler ascended to power, my grandfather just brushed it off and thought to himself that, after all, he was no different than the other anti-Semites. He said they would remain silent and wait for things to get better. Georg was terrific at soothing children who came wailing and terrified but would afterwards leave with a smile. Terminally ill patients found comfort in his touch and soothing voice. My father, on the other hand, told me privately that as much as Georg appeared to the public as kind and charming, he was actually moody and depressed. He was an optimist, and believed that Hitler would just be another typical politician and things would settle after a while.
My grandmother Elsa, on the other hand, knew what was coming although she could not name it. Just weeks before Hitler took over, she started working out a plan to move the family out of the country. She worked hard to reach out to all her contacts based in New Zealand, US, India and France. These contacts yielded nothing positive, but Elsa did not give up. She stumbled upon information on a certain extraordinary program in the UK for Jewish engineers and doctors. The special program allowed such professionals to immigrate to the UK with their entire families.
At first my grandfather was reluctant to move, but my grandmother was adamant that she would move with my father who was 3 years old then and my six year old aunt. Elsa told him to remain behind and get another wife if he so pleased. Georg then sold off his practice reluctantly and protested all the way on how my grandmother was delusional and overreacting. Our family nevertheless settled in England; starting at Manchester before moving to the rural Oxfordshire. Our grandmother’s efforts saved our lives as the rest of the extended family from my father’s side died in the holocaust. If it were not for my grandmother’s fear, we would all have perished alongside them. If we had believed in our grandfather’s sweet optimism and confidence, our family would be no more.
Although I am a noted calmer and soother of others, it is hard for me to advice Muslims, people of color and women to calm down as they have nothing to fear of a Trump’s presidency. Anyone advising me to do this would certainly be thinking like my grandfather back then. On this matter, I am willing to break protocol for once and not counsel for calm. People everywhere are scared, and for a good reason due to Trump’s words. He ought to prove that his election campaigns were an act otherwise all women and minorities are at a risk. There will be suspicion, fear and then anger. Until that happens, it would be prudent to think like Elsa and never like Georg.