We are a mixed religion family. I am Jewish and my wife is Muslim, so our children have been brought up to have cultural pride and appreciation of our beliefs in one God with different names. Part of their education has been understanding the plight of the Jewish people, especially throughout Europe. We are lucky to have a special hero in our own family who exemplifies the strength and heroism of the Jewish people.
Our Uncle Harry was a fabulist, a storyteller, a great character who fled Europe during the Russian revolution. We loved his stories but took them with a grain of salt until one day our aunt returned from a trip to Chicago to recount this:
As a commander of a troop of horse soldiers in the Red Army, my uncle was given instructions to take his men into a small neighboring village, round up all the Jews, lock them in the local synagogue, and burn it all down, building and souls.
You see, my uncle’s family name was Prizant–its origins lost in history—so his commanders never knew he was Jewish. Harry did as he was told, rounded up the Jewish population, pushed them into the synagogue, and locked the doors. He sent his men on to the next village, and he remained to oversee the burning. When the troops left, he went around to the back door, let everyone out, and burned the empty synagogue down.
Some 50 years later, my uncle was sitting in a restaurant in Chicago, and across the room a woman was intensely staring at him. She began to shake, to cry, and rushed over to him, kneeling down and kissing his hands. My uncle was totally befuddled until she looked up and said, “You don’t know me, but I know you; you were the officer that let us out of the back door of the synagogue.”
Uncle Harry passed away a number of years ago, but has always remained a symbol of love, faith, and humanity. There are surely places in heaven for people like him.