My grandfather stole Hitler’s bathtub faucets.
He was in his early 20s when the Nazis invaded his hometown of Vienna, Austria. Being a young Jewish man, he feared for his life. He successfully managed a long and risky escape, and ended up arriving in the United States. A couple of years later, he joined the U.S. army to fight the Nazis in order to gain citizenship.
He was first sent to Panama in case of an impending attack. After that proved to be a pointless endeavor, was sent back to Europe. Viewed as a commodity because his native tongue was German, he arrived in Bavaria with orders to hunt down and interrogate Nazis. He witnessed and participated in the liberation of the concentration camp Dachau. Then, he made his way to Berchtesgaden, the site of Hitler’s vacation home.
At this point, Hitler was dead, so, as you can imagine, his home had been pretty thoroughly ransacked. But, my thrifty grandfather used what tools he had to pry off the faucets from Hitler’s bathtub. He took these home with him and gifted them to his mother after the war ended.
According to family lore, my grandfather’s mom proudly displayed the faucets in her house.
The anger that the Jewish community felt after the war was understandably palpable, and my great grandmother viewed her ownership of Hitler’s faucets a mini victory. That is, until one day one of her friends asked her why she would want Hitler’s faucets in her house. Doesn’t she know what he did to the Jews? So, she threw them out, without a thought to the fact that one day they would be worth millions.
After the war ended, the records the Nazis kept of the inmates during the holocaust were released. My dad’s mom found out that her parents had been killed in a concentration camp. Years later, we found their names in Israel’s Yad Vashem Hall of Names as being ‘murdered’. We never found out which camp it was. We assume that it was Auschwitz since they lived in Poland, but their records must have been some of the ones that the Nazis destroyed to try and evade capture. Most likely, we’ll never find out.
We also have many other relatives who were never heard from again after the war. We hope that they were able to escape to Australia, South America or the U.S., but statistics suggest something far more sinister. Being Jewish in Nazi-invaded Austria was obviously a very perilous situation. But, so is being Jewish in general. A target is automatically put on the backs of those who have ancestral ties to this faith. Being an ethno-religion, anyone associated with being Jewish, regardless of whether or not they practice, are the victims of often subtle bigotry. Jews have also been the victims of enslavement, murder, and other hate crimes for centuries – and they continue to be to this day.
My high school had a relatively high number of Jewish families.
I’ll never forget the day when a gang came by and carved and spray painted swastikas onto all of the Jewish kids’ cars. Though I didn’t have a car at the time, when the word ‘kike’ was yelled, I felt the sting inherited from my ancestors.
I have had people make tasteless jokes about me being a penny pincher or calling me a JAP (not Japanese, but Jewish American Princess). My boyfriend told me about how in the south where he grew up, he was taught that the word ‘Jew’ is an insult. He thought it was a curse word, much like the ‘f’ word or the ‘s’ word. Years later, someone had to explain to him that ‘Jew’ is not a curse word at all – just a way to describe someone of the Jewish faith, much like calling someone a Christian or a Buddhist.
People tend to think it’s ok to say bigoted things towards Jewish people because they see us as white, or the rather myopic term “white passing”. They think that they can have opinions about the damage that the holocaust caused to Jewish families to this day, that they can spew nonsensical arguments about why the holocaust was something other than it was. As if people aren’t still suffering from the effects of concentration camps. Hell, from the same slander from two thousand years ago. The veiled criticisms and overused stereotypes, the slurs that they think they can use because, well, we’re just Jewish, after all, it’s not THAT big a deal, right?
But, I have one uncontrollable advantage in our modern day world.
You can’t tell if I’m Jewish just by looking looking at me. Jews themselves seem to have a radar; I’ve been stopped on the street many times by fellow Jews inquiring about my Jewishness. But, to the general population, only if a person is wearing a star of David necklace or a name tag that says, “Hi! I’m Jewish!” would we be identifiable. Most people who are descended from Jews have the option of evading direct discrimination by not revealing their ancestry.
I have been benefiting from my light skin my entire life, whether I realized it or not. I can walk down the street with a BLM sign, listen to the stories of racism from my friends of color, and change my profile picture on social media to a black square. But, my white privilege dictates that I will never suffer the type of systemic racism that they have suffered. I can hide my Jewishness, but they can’t hide the color of their skin.
When I saw the people at the capital waving confederate flags and wearing ‘camp Auschwitz’ or ‘6MWE’ shirts, I felt a very specific kinship with my black friends and neighbors.
I see my non-Jewish family members condoning the riot at the Capitol, agreeing that we need to overturn the election and I feel my blood turn cold. By proxy, they are also condoning white supremacy and prejudice. They are saying that my ancestors deserved to perish in the most barbaric of ways. They are saying that my black friends should be enslaved; that anyone threatening their white privilege should be punished. These people are treating the concentration camp where my great grandparents most likely perished as a malevolent summer camp.
We are too far into this to be able to separate the American people into racists and non-racists. Everyone finds a way to justify their prejudices. And I feel sad – not just because of all the bigotry, but also because they live their lives in hate. People who believe these things spend time and energy every day, whether they are aware of it or not, hating other people. Why choose hate when you can choose love? The Christian bible preaches love, as does every other major religion. Why are there so many people who are twisting it into justifying hate?
When I see all of the statues of confederate soldiers being removed and dishonored, I think about Hitler’s faucets.
I wonder if I would have kept the faucets knowing that Hitler used them to bathe himself in his luxury. I wonder if I would have considered them a relic of triumph or a remembrance of atrocity. My grandfather was kicking himself, my dad likewise, because of what those faucets would be worth today. What better revenge than for a Jewish family to profit off of the anti-semite who cause the most horrendous genocide in modern history? Or do they belong in the garbage?
I’m not sure what I would have done. Would you have kept the faucets?
My name is Andrea and I live in Los Angeles, California. By day, I am an actor and by night I am working towards a degree in nutritional science.