I am a shoemaker, but not so good a shoemaker as my father was, or his father before him.
I learned from my fatherís hand, yet have only a dim memory of him from those hazy times in the old country when he ran a small shop near Berlin.
My father was a good shoe maker, not a wealthy one.
Since he was a Jew he mostly sold to other Jews, and in Germany in those days, few Jews had wealth to spare.
None the less my father earned a living, as well as the enmity of Hans, the German shoemaker who hoped not only to sell his shoes to Germans but to us Jews, too.
Hans hated my father long before any of us heard about the Nazis or understood fully who and what they were.
I think now Hans envied my fatherís ability, fingers that could mold leather in a way few other men could then or since.
Hans often called my father ďa dirty JewĒ in the market place just to keep others from doing business with us.
This being Germany, many already blamed us for losing the Great War, so that even some Jews feared doing business with my father, and we did even less well than we might have.
My father, being a patient man, cautioned us against hating Hans, telling us Hans hurt himself more with his hate than he did us.
My father loved being a Jew and often boasted of our peopleís great accomplishments over the long road since our leaving Jerusalem, of those centuries in Babylon where the Talmud was sealed, and perhaps even the greater years in Spain when for a time our people shone as leaders of enlightenment.,
He was thoroughly convinced that a time would come when we would once again shine.
He even held out hope for Germany Ė which may explain why we remained when so many we knew fled for safer places.
Kristallnacht shook even my fatherís faith, a night so filled with rage he knew we had reached a moment in time equal to any our ancestors had faced.
The Nazi did not want to make us homeless or steal our wealth the way the Romans and Christians had in the past, but wanted us to cease to exist.
By this time, we realized we could no longer escape Germany as many of us already had.
Hans, seizing his opportunity to finally put my fatherís business in ruin, kept close watch over us to make sure we put on the Gold Star after the war started.
Each night, my father prayed for deliverance, often refusing to the plight Jews suffered in Egypt. He believed his faith would allow the angel of death to pass over us and strike down the Nazi. He was greatly encouraged by the reports that reached us on the progress of the war.
Sooner or later, the allies would reach Germany and liberate us; acting has Godís hand on earth.
Yet not once did my father wish God to smite down Hans, despite the Germanís constant hatred towards us. Hans was always something sad and pathetic in my fatherís eyes.
Then the Nazi began to collect us, using the same gold stars that marked on us the street to load us onto trains. We were forced to leave everything behind, our memories and our livelihood.
I remember seeing Hans grinned at us as we left, his face so full of satisfied rage I wanted to spit on him.
But I still believed as my father believed, and prayed for Hans instead, even as the cattle cars took us to some unknown destination, we later knew as work camps, concentration camps, and yes, even death camps.
Ever the optimist, my father joked that we would not have to bear Hansís vigilance in our new home.
A hard worker, my father believed he could appease the Nazis by doing more work than anybody and keeping to himself.
And at first the conditions in the camp Ė while bad Ė were still bearable.
We all continued to pray for deliverance.
We soon learned work did not make us free; death did, as the Nazi moved people from our camp to other camps where they could set us free at the most rapid rate possible in gas chambers.
The war was not going well, and the Nazis seemed determined to get rid of us before the allies arrived.
I remember vividly seeing a pile of shoes taller than I was and realizing that each pair once belonged to a living, breathing Jew who had since become dust. Some of those shoes I knew my father had made.
I was so shaken I abandoned God, because I believed God had abandoned me.
I watched as the gas chambers and ovens devoured my father, mother, brothers and sisters.
But I did not stop praying.
My father had taught me well.
A person must pray most when faith is most shaken.
And this I believe is what saved me, kept me whole in body and spirit until the allies arrived.
Now, all these years later, I make my shoes here, in a land of my own, thinking of my father, thinking of how we shall let no one like Hans or the Nazis steal our livelihood or lives again.
I am still that angry, and feel my hands shake with every stitch.