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"Di Shtemp'l"
#1
Di Shtemp’l” was no ordinary stamp.  It was not one you would have typically find on a letter, at least not here in the United States.  In fact, it wasn’t even a U.S. stamp.  “The Stamp” came from a foreign country: “Deutsches Reich”.  Germany.  “The Stamp” depicted a person. That person, the most heinous person who ever lived was Adolf Hitler. 
 
I was then, during that summer of 1950, sitting at a wooden table in the kitchen of my Bubbe and Zayde's, my mother’s parent’s home, in the city of Syracuse, NY. I was, that summer, about to turn 8-years old.  On that summer morning, I was looking at my stamp collection (My parents had recently bought me both a small, yellow-covered stamp-book and a bunch of stamps at a 5 & 10-cents store). 
 
As I recall, I had just turned the page in my stamp-book to the country of Germany when my Bubbe (she had been talking with my mother and my aunt), walked over toward me to get to the refrigerator.  That’s when she spotted “the stamp.” The stamp that depicted Adolf Hitler.  It was, at that moment, as if “All hell had broken loose”.
 
Seconds later, I remember Mayn Bubbe angrily saying, “Hitler, you should “kock” [shit] on him!  My Bubbe had become quite enraged; but, at that time, I didn’t understand why.   
 
"Er Tut Nit Visn Keyn Beser!” [“He doesn’t know any better!”]. At least that’s what it sounded like as my mother’s older sister, my aunt Celia, pleaded with my beloved Bubbe, Sarah Shapiro, to calm down.  “Mayn Tante” [my aunt] added, “Er iz azoy yung!” [He is so young!”].
 
At the time, I didn’t know that the Nazis had slaughtered six million European Jews.  I didn’t know they had murdered millions of innocent Jewish children.  I didn’t know that the Nazis had used a prussic acid call Zyklon-B to asphyxiate millions of Jews in the Auschwitz gas chambers (complete with peep-holes to watch the dying suffer). I didn’t know how the bodies of the deceased were then taken to the crematoria and turned into ashes.   
 
It was a short time after that “stamp collection” incident that my mother sat down with me to try to explain everything.  She also wanted to tell me why my Bubbe had become so upset.  She began by saying that the person pictured on the stamp, Adolf Hitler, was a terrible man. An evil man.  A man who not only wanted rule Germany, but the rest of the world.   
 My mother would go on to say that Hitler had wrongly singled-out Jewish people as the cause Germany’s problems. She went on to tell me that Germany, along with the rest of the world, was going through bad times; there were lots of people out of work.  She said the Jews were constantly being blamed for Germany’s problems. Over time, some people in Germany began to believe these lies. 
 
My mother would continue by saying that Hitler had made it increasingly more difficult for Jews to live in Germany.  He passed laws that singled out Jews for bad treatment.  Over time, Jews were being rounded up and sent to horrible places called concentration camps (extermination camps).  Millions of Jewish people were killed in those camps. The Nazis poisoned them; they burned their bodies.  I remember that as my mother was telling me about this I was becoming increasingly frightened.  However, she felt that I was now old enough to understand the terrible things that happened to our people.
 
It was at this time that my mother explained to me why my Bubbe was particularly angered at seeing “That Stamp of “That Man,” Adolf Hitler. She proceeded to tell me that Bubbe had a younger sister named Rachel.  She had married a man named Reuben; they had two sons. Their family of four was living in a country called Lithuania in the city of Vilna. 
 
My mother went on to say that during the late-1920s (my mother was then in elementary school) my Bubbe’s sister and her husband came for a visit to America with the idea of having their family emigrate to America.  My mother then said, "Your Bubbe and Zayde did everything they could to encourage Bubbe’s sister and her husband to come to the United States. They assured Reuben that Moshe (my Zayde) would help him find a job and also a place to live. Your grandparents were only too happy to provide funds for their passage across the Atlantic, and also provide money when they arrived in America.  Everything seemed set.”
 
"When Reuben and Rachel left," my mother said, "Your Bubbe and Zayde were sad to see them go, but they were pleased at the prospect of their return to America.  They fully expected that they’d return shortly with their two sons to start a new life here in America.  I remember my mother telling me that Bubbe was overjoyed with this prospect that her ‘baby sister’ and her family would be coming back to America, soon.”
 
But, for whatever reason(s), plans changed.  To this day, we're not sure why Reuben and Rachel changed their mind (one possible reason is that immigration quotas had changed in the mid-1920s).  In any event, Bubbe’s sister and her husband never came back to America; they had stayed in Europe.
 
It was then that my mother said that over the next few years, Hitler, the man on your stamp, sought to increase his power in Germany and also throughout Europe.  He quickly began taking over other countries.  By this time, it became harder and harder for Jews to leave Europe.  Many countries, including the United States, made it difficult to enter our shores.   
 
My mother continued by telling me that it was about the time I was born that Germany had invaded the country of Russia.  The Nazis would round up and kill thousands and thousands of Jews. They also took over nearby countries.  One country that the Nazis took over was Lithuania; that’s where your Bubbe’s sister and her family lived. 
As the conversation continued, my mother would say that as soon as WW II had ended, your Bubbe would write to government officials trying to find out what had happened to her sister and her family (She didn't know, at the time, that they had been murdered).  At first, because of the confusion after World War II, no one knew for certain what had happened. The question at the time was: “Had any members of Bubbe’s sister’s family survived?” 
 
Slowly, information was coming out of Europe as to what had happened to European Jewry.  It was about that time that your Bubbe learned the terrible news that her sister, Rachel, her husband, Reuben, and their two sons, their entire family had been murdered. That’s why your Bubbe was so upset when she saw anything connected with Nazi Germany, especially “That Man” pictured on your stamp, Adolf Hitler.  
 
Mayn Muter would conclude by saying that, even years later, after Bubbe learned of her sister and her family’s death, “I would see your Bubbe crying.”  She knew that she would never again see her “baby sister” Rachel and her family. 
 
As my mother was finishing, she said, "So please try to understand that your Bubbe’s not upset with you, it’s just that such a terrible thing had happened to her beloved sister and her family, and European Jewry, as a whole. “I know,” my mother added, “that she'll never forget as long as she lives."  And then my mother said, “And no Jew should ever forget, either.”  Moments later, I returned to my stamp collection.  I yanked the stamp of Hitler out of my book.  I proceeded to flush it down the toilet.  I thought, “I didn’t know any better, then…but I do now!”

In conclusion, I frequently think of “Di Shtemp’l, “The Stamp,” albeit almost 70 years ago.  “That Stamp” reminds me to never be complacent.  To never be lulled into a false sense of security.  “Di Shtemp’l” also reminds me of two Hebrew words: Lo Tishkach. “Thou Shalt Not Forget!”  “Never Again!”
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