My parents, Molly and Sam Greenberg, were born in Poland in the early 1900's. They both lived through World War II and the Nazi reign of terror in Eastern Europe. Like many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, they barely spoke about this horrific time in their past. As I was growing up in Brooklyn, New York, the only family history I was told was that my father's father, his younger sister, and my mother's entire family were murdered by the Nazis. Although unsaid, it was clear that this dark part of my parents' lives was off limits- far too painful to talk about. And yet, the indelible effects of my parents' past would creep up on and affect my life in the most unexpected ways.

From the time I was four years old, the one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world was to have a dog. I wanted a companion like the kids on television had – my very own Lassie or Rin Tin Tin who would be my best buddy. In my mind, I pictured us hanging out on the couch together as he'd wash my face with his wet doggie kisses.

The indelible effects of my parents' past would creep up on my life in the most unexpected ways For the first six years of my life, every summer my family would go on a 10-day vacation to Tessler's Farmhouse in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. One of the highlights of our trip was the opportunity I had to play with the owners' dog, a mutt called "Jackie." A big black dog with white markings at the end of his paws and the tip of his tail, he was a gentle giant. He'd walk around the property as if the deed was in his name and we were his guests.

To my delight, at the beginning of the summer when I was five years old Jackie and his mate had puppies. I fell in love with a cute little guy that looked just like his dad. Everyone called him "Blackie." Of course, I asked if he could be mine. My father said that I could take him home with me when the vacation was over, or at least that's what I thought he said. During our almost two weeks at the farm, I had the time of my life with that little guy. I loved to pick him up, chase him, and just play with him. It made me so happy. As we were packing and getting ready to return home my father told me that I couldn't really take the dog with me. My heart was broken. My mom said that dad didn't want a dog and would not allow an animal in the house. She blamed our inability to get a dog on dad's irrational rigidity (which he had) and his feeling like certain things were unnecessary-a dog being one of them. We didn't "need" it. I was heart broken. I cried. I needed it.

When I was six years old, my dad said that my Uncle Ben was going to visit us in a few days and that he was bringing me a dog. I was so excited. My wish was about to come true. I can still picture it so clearly in my mind. It was Sunday, the doorbell rang, and I could hear my aunt and uncle entering our house and starting to come up to our second floor apartment. My excitement knew no bounds. This was going to be the moment that I had long wished for. My father went out to meet them as they ascended the linoleum covered staircase. Next thing I knew my dad proudly presented me with a big beautiful white stuffed dog - complete with a plastic red leash and big red collar. Once again I was so disappointed. It was a wonderful gift, but he wasn't real. I did love stuffed animals, but to me there was nothing that could take the place of a real dog.

Later that night as my mom was helping me get ready for bed I once again asked "why can't I get a real dog?" My mother reiterated to me how my father did not want a real dog in his house. It would be too much work, it would make a mess, etc. Quite frankly, to me, the whole conflict was puzzling. It just didn't make sense. Throughout my childhood I always knew that my parents tried to do whatever they could to protect me and make me happy. Like other children of Holocaust survivors, I had parents who would give me "everything" if it were at all possible. I could have been a very spoiled youngster, but somehow I realized that they were trying to give me all the things that they never had. To take advantage of that generous spirit would have felt too wrong. I knew dad worked very hard for whatever money we had. Yet, I also knew that my father and mother would not deprive me of something I wanted so very much if granting my wish was at all within their power. All the more reason it was surprising and painful that I couldn't get my pet.

She couldn't and didn't want to go through it again As I got older, I began to realize that like in so many other families, my mom was the real boss. If she really wanted something, then it would happen. It wasn't until I was around age nine that I learned the true reason why I couldn't get my dog. After a day spent playing with friends outside our house, I saw my next-door neighbor walk by with his new adorable mixed breed puppy. He was so cute. I held him and petted him, and my neighbor even let me walk him a short distance on my own.

Later that evening, I remember Mom and I standing around the kitchen speaking about the events of the day. Given my earlier fun experience I went through my usual "Why can't I have a dog? I love dogs. I'd take care of it. Our neighbor has a little dog. He's so cute. Why can't I have one? It's not fair." I should say that even as a child I knew that it was true that my father had no need for a dog and wasn't sensitive enough unless pushed to realize the importance of a pet to me, his child. Then my mom repeated something she, too, had probably said in the past but for some unknown reason it was as if I heard it for the first time. "I know that you will play with it and kiss it and try to take very good care of it. You will love it so much and you'll become so attached. But what's going to happen when it dies? You will feel so sad. I don't want to see you be hurt and heartbroken" she said.

"But at least I would have had the opportunity to have a dog, and to love it. It would be okay. Of course I'd be in pain, but think of the joy and fun I would have had when it was alive." I responded. "It really could be so very sad in the end, but it doesn't matter anyway because you know Daddy won't let us get one." End of discussion.

The author's parents in 1990
The author's parents in 1990

Suddenly, it was as if a light bulb went on and the whole situation crystallized in mind. The real obstacle to my getting a dog was my mother! SHE couldn't handle adopting a dog! This realization threw me for a loop. In retrospect, no wonder it took so long for me to understand what it was all really about. It's not that my mom was afraid of being a bad guy and telling me she didn't like animals. I knew she loved animals. Over the years we would take care of any injured or lost baby birds or hungry stray kittens that came our way. So that wasn't the reason. For the first time I understood that on some level she wasn't really talking about me. She was speaking about herself. It was too painful a thought for her to have to lose something she had become very attached to and truly loved. She couldn't take it. She couldn't and didn't want to go through it again. It all finally made sense. My mother had become an orphan within the first three years of her life, and was raised by her two older sisters and three older brothers. All of her siblings, Roza, Elka, Reuben, Leo and Mendel, and everyone and everything she had ever been close to or loved was destroyed by the Nazi invaders during WWII. My mom was too fragile. She felt she could not handle another intensely painful loss… especially if one didn't have to be involved in the relationship in the first place. That was the real reason why I couldn't get a dog.

Skip to my adulthood. Here I was, married and having my first family barbeque in the backyard of in my brand new home. I was so proud. It was a hot, humid lazy late Sunday afternoon. My parents, my sister Evelyn, her husband Amos, their two children and our two children all looked like they were having a great time: enjoying each others' company, feasting on home grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, surrounded by the beautiful full tall trees, the brightly blooming pink azaleas, and the lush red rose bushes along the back fence. To me, this seemed like an idyllic all- American family summer scene.

Being the thoughtful host, I was not unaware of potential spoilers. I had learned from the cookout we had had on the previous weekend that one needed to be alert for uninvited party crashers. They had almost ruined the fun of last Sunday's get together. But this time I was ready for them. When the wasps and mosquitoes appeared and attempted to dine on my own family, they were in for a big surprise. Unbeknownst to them, learning from the previous ambush, I had purchased an electronic bug zapper. I was ready for combat. They weren't going to ruin another fun occasion.

Now, truth be told, I had never actually seen a bug zapper in action so I had no clue what using it was really like. The man in the store said that he used it around his pool and he thought it was "amazingly" effective.

As my parents played with their four grandchildren, I proudly showed my sister and my brother-in-law my new weapon. I plugged it in, and waited for it to work. Within a few minutes we began hearing "Zzzzap…Zzzzap… Zzzzap;" It sounded as if someone was doing target practice on the unwelcome visitors. "Rozi, What was that? Where did that noise come from?" asked my mom. I could tell that she was clearly shaken by something. "That's the newest way to rid the yard from those pesky mosquitoes and wasps," I explained. "Zzzzap…. Zzzzap" …we almost immediately heard again. "It's called a Bug Zapper." It's supposed to be a lot more effective and efficient than those hideous sprays or special candles. The bugs are attracted to the florescent light, and when they get close it electrocutes them." "Zzzzap ....Zzzzap." There it was again- working hard to make my yard free of the enemy. My mother's face suddenly lost all color. She appeared as if she was in agony. "Stop that! Please stop that! I can't take it!" Mom said.

"What's wrong?" I asked, somewhat puzzled.

"I can't stand the noise and what's happening. It's cruel to the insects. It reminds me too much of the concentration camps, and the crematoriums," she said. Her response took me aback. I reflected on what she had just said. Strangely, I realized that even before she had said anything, I did feel a bit internally unsettled as I observed the zapper in action. There was something quite disturbing about hearing a crackling buzz and knowing that a living creature was being fried, even if it was an annoying, potentially disease-carrying bug. Once my mom clarified what was disturbing her, the reason for my underlying discomfort made more sense to me. With this newfound awareness, I couldn't help but feel that the whole contraption was just plain vile.

I quickly went and unplugged the machine. Mom looked relieved. She said she couldn't believe that these types of machines were being sold. They were so cruel. It was too much like the Nazis. The bugs didn't deserve to be tortured.

Reflecting back on this incident, I am still struck by the irony of the situation. Here was my mother, a woman who had experienced the loss of her loved ones to a variety of unspeakable Nazi atrocities, and she was feeling sorry for the insects that were attacking us. She felt it was cruel and unusual punishment- murdering the bugs by electrocution. She had to have it stopped.

My mom's reaction stood out in sharp contrast to Hitler and his henchmen who felt no such conflict over the killing of millions of human beings.

It's interesting. I always knew that my parents' experiences with life and death during the Holocaust were major reasons why being so close as a family and having pride in being Jewish were so important to me. Yet I never realized that the events in their lives during World War II played such a significant role in shaping my life, too. It's only now, as I grow older, that I am beginning to see how much their past affected who I have become.

Looking back on my fifty-eight years as a second generation Holocaust survivor, I am struck by the powerful truth once written by the author William Faulkner "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past." He was, and is still, so very right!


I want everyone to know that I did eventually get a real dog, a gorgeous white toy poodle that I named "Snowy," as a gift from my parents for my junior high school graduation. To this day, I still feel that the moment I received that dog was one of the happiest moments of my entire life.