Dr. Richard L. Benkin
At Village of Mount Prospect, Illinois Meeting
April 19, 2011
On Accepting Village Proclamation Commemorating
Days of Remembrance 2011
My grandparents immigrated here from Eastern Europe early in the last century. Like most immigrants, they did not have enough money to all get on an ocean liner together and come here. So, they would scrape together enough cash to send over one family member, then try to scrape together enough to send over other family members one by one. My maternal grandmother, who was from Poland, was the first to come here in her family. Unfortunately, they were a poor lot, so they ran out of time and never got anyone else to the United States—which meant that this entire part of my family was wiped out in the Holocaust.
My grandmother believed then that she had no family—other than the one she raised. Then in 1962, she received a letter—from her younger brother. Like so many others, my Uncle Mendel had been marched out of his town along with his family, friends, neighbors, his rabbi, the butcher down the street, and every other Jew in the town; lined up in front of a ravine, and shot by the Nazis. For some reason, though, that bullet did not kill him; and for yet some other reason, the Nazis did not finish him off, shooting anyone in that ditch who they thought might be alive, which was their common practice. So, he laid there among the dead bodies of his wife and children—a horror so great I cannot even imagine—but he laid there for hours pretending to be dead until he thought it was safe to move; which he did and he escaped, wandering Europe for the rest of the war years, winding up in a DP camp, and on a boat to Israel; which is where he was when he wrote to his big sister, Molly, my grandmother. Eventually, he too came here with his new family; and I don’t think anyone was happier to be an American.
When people try to deny what happened back then, I think of my Uncle Mendel and the other survivors in my family; as well as the millions of others—Jews and non-Jews—who did not survive. So, at this time when Holocaust denial is rampant, some of it unfortunately even in our own great country, I am proud that Mount Prospect—my Mount Prospect—stands against those who would murder the victims a second time by blotting out their memories. And as I continue my fight against yet another Holocaust transpiring even as we stand here tonight in South Asia; I will take with me—into the refugee camps, along the porous borders, in the forests and elsewhere—as an inspiration—the support, the strength, and the moral courage of Mayor Wilks and Mount Prospect, Illinois: my home.