Russ shares lessons of resilience on Holocaust Remembrance Day
As a child, visiting lecturer Catfish Russ’s mother was incarcerated for 14 months in three Nazi concentration camps.
Despite the trauma she experienced, “she was like a Hungarian Lucille Ball,” he said, “just hilariously funny.”
Russ shared stories of his childhood and lessons he learned from his mother, a survivor of the Holocaust, on Wednesday. The talk occurred on Holocaust Remembrance Day and was the first in the Gather series of virtual conversations hosted by The Media School.
Russ was born in 1957, just over a decade after the Holocaust.
His mother was one of 11 children, and they all went to Auschwitz, he said.
“You don’t really get the sense that your mom was the victim of one of the largest crimes in history,” he said. “You don’t get that sense — you don’t realize that to have your family murdered is a hurt with no equal. All this reveals itself over time.”
Russ said he heard more stories as he grew up, in a Jewish neighborhood in DeKalb County, Georgia. His mother was a seamstress, his father was 6-foot-3-inches, and the children participated in karate.
“I think it was because we didn’t want to be hurt,” Russ said.
Suffering has become ingrained in Jewish culture and history, Russ said.
“Sometimes you don’t realize that our bonds are our wounds,” he said. “It’s like strong at the broken places. I think for a long time the Jewish community refused to give in, we refused to be afraid, we refused to not try.”
Because the Jewish community has historically been persecuted, it has had to confront suffering, Russ said.
“I think at the end of the day the harder you push a people, the more you make them into the kinds of people they want to be,” Russ said. “People everywhere have a sense that they have a right to life, they have a right to be wherever they are.”
After sharing parts of his family’s history and his own background, Russ said he wanted to tell his classes that those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
“And history’s here to teach us a lesson,” he said.
That belief, he said, led him to address contemporary politics. Russ said former President Donald Trump is the closest the United States has ever had to a Hitler.
“And I can’t be silent, and I won’t,” Russ said. “My background gives me the right to stand up and say ‘We have to stop this guy. We have to stop his influence and we have to crush his followers and dispirit his fawning loyalists and pursue his beliefs with the alacrity – as they say in the south – of white on rice.’”