After the war, when my father finally escaped the Nazi labor camps, he returned to his village of Oradea. There was nothing for him. His brothers had survived, but the Nazis had murdered his parents in Dachau. Villagers had taken his home, as they had taken the property, homes and lands of Jews throughout Europe. There was no work. No future. I’m not sure how, but he joined a group of survivors smuggling Jewish orphans from Holland into Palestine . . .
Peter Farago wasn’t a Zionist per se. All he knew was that the children had lost their parents to the exterminators, just as he’d lost his. His group commandeered a train, loaded the children into the cars and headed for the Mediterranean. At some point allied authorities in Germany stopped the train. As it slowed, my father and his colleagues instructed the children not to say a word. They were German refugees heading home. Forged papers said so.
None of the hundreds of children spoke German. And none of them spoke as the inspectors examined the train’s human cargo. Sometimes I imagine that moment; the train doors sliding open. The children inside, dirty, parentless, silent. They weren’t crammed into the cars like their parents had been. But they knew what had happened to their mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. The fear, dread and desperation must have been palpable.
The train continued. The children reached the Jewish homeland. Inspired by an American-born barber in his village and his contact with American soldiers, my father emigrated to the United States.
As he made a living for himself and his family, he never lost his deep sense of obligation. To a fault. His generosity was exploited by his workers, who unionized his factory and attempted to murder his sons. It sent him into a deep depression, relieved only by the birth of his first grandson. And still he gave back. Knowing that many of the recipients were anti-Semites.
My father’s dreams were haunted by the cold, starvation and beatings he’d received at the Nazi’s hands. Sometimes he’d scream in his sleep. He purchased his first and only gun – a double barreled shotgun – to somehow convince himself that he wasn’t defenseless. As far as I know, it worked. He kept the gun in a closet and used it exactly once, to kill gophers that had invaded our lawn.
We never talked about the Second Amendment in our house. My mother was virulently anti-gun. She joined Handgun Control Inc. (the forerunner of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence), an organization calling for a handgun ban. It was founded by a Jewish friend whose husband had been shot to death by a drug addict in our local hospital’s parking lot. My father consoled his widow. He may even have given her money, knowing what it meant to lose a loved one to a cold-blooded killer.
When I began The Truth About Guns, my father was quietly supportive. My mother was a lot less than sympathetic. She was appalled at the idea that I carried a gun. With the loss of my father and her descent into infirmity, we made our peace. “How’s your gun thing?” she asks now, accepting but not agreeing with this work as an expression of my passion to do as my father did: to give back.
The key difference between my mother and my father: she believes that society must help the helpless. My father believed, as I believe, that you can’t rely on anyone to protect you from the forces that seek to drag you down; whether it’s racism, grinding poverty or tyranny. You must fight for yourself. You must defend yourself. The best help you can provide others is to help them help themselves. Nothing else is reliable.
That’s not a lesson they teach in school. It’s not a lesson taught in synagogues. It’s a lesson you learn from your history or your experience. All of the students in the video above are the sons and daughters of immigrants, people who overcame adversity by their wits, their convictions and their community. Some of them are, like me, the descendants of slaves. At some point, the lesson of self-sufficiency was lost, leaving them as vulnerable as the parents of the orphans on that train rolling through the German countryside.
I hope that experience will not be their teacher. Meanwhile, I work to defend the gun rights that one day they may have to use. And prepare myself and my children to defend the freedom my father struggled to achieve.