Contemporary Fiction Historical Fiction

When our daughter was born, we still hadn’t decided on a name. A name is a very important thing. stirring connotations of other liked named people, for good or for worse. We had been debating for months, making lists, and searching the internet, everything except asking friends and family. That rarely goes well. We thought we’d wait till she arrived and were quite sure, upon looking into her face, a name would be communicated. Nothing came. Now it was time to check out of the hospital and it was crunch time. The nurse informed us that if we didn’t pick a name the baby would officially be called Baby Girl in the paperwork. Then we’d have to file for a name change, assuming we ever agreed on one.  

My wife is Japanese and I am Jewish and we wanted a name that would reflect both cultures. Now, saying I am Jewish, speaks to my ethnicity not my geography and you’ll notice I didn’t say religion because being a Jew is just as much cultural as it is religious, at least to me. I am American, born here, with Eastern European ancestry, Poland, Hungary, Austria, wherever the border was at that moment in time. But if you ask a Jew what they are, most likely he or she would respond Jewish, not Polish, Hungarian or wherever. Most people don’t identify this way, they recognize place not belief, Jews are everywhere and saying you’re Jewish doesn’t put a name on the “what are you” question. Anyway, this is a long way of saying we named our daughter Sakura. Sakura, meaning cherry blossom. I like it. Many Israelis choose nature as an inspiration for names, not wanting to name after the dead, which is the customary honorific, choosing instead to distance themselves from past atrocities. So, you have names like Iris, Nurit, Lilia, Hodel, Erith, all floral references. I felt Sakura was in keeping with that newer tradition while still honoring my acquired Japanese family.   

My wife, Aimi, and I live in Indiana, Bloomington to be exact, where we are watching our beautiful ten year old “Cherry Blossom,” bloom into adult hood before our eyes. Now, Bloomington is a college town, being the home of Indiana University, so by nature it is younger and more liberal than say other cities in the state, but prejudice is everywhere, more so these days it seems and being both Asian and Jewish is a double weight to bear. She is often looked upon as an outsider for not embracing the usual Christian holidays and for celebrating all manner of strange customs, rarely seen out here in the Midwest. In some cases it’s unfamiliarity and sometimes it’s just blatant ignorance and intolerance, the Venn diagram of prejudice. Looks can ostracize someone for no other reason than that. Assimilation can be the oil in the masses’ water.  

My little girl, long ink black hair large ovoid eyes like a tortoise’s dark shell, skin the tone of herbal tea, inherited more of Aimi’s genetic makeup than mine. The twisting ladders of her DNA did, however, give her the gifts to climb above the social fray she would find herself in, much like my ancestors climbed out of the shtetls and ghettos they found themselves in years ago. She gets her self assuredness and skepticism of authority from both of us, taking no prisoners and having no patience for drama or bullshit. This cherry blossom should have been an evergreen, refusing to give up her foliage in cold harsh times. No bullying for this kid.  

So it came as no surprise to us that she would rattle the cages in school when her history class touched on the Holocaust. Her teacher, Mrs. Ingram, a tall, straight backed, older woman with a gray bouffant, directed much of her attention towards Sakura, knowing she was Jewish. 

“She was looking right at me, Dad,” Sakura said at the dinner table that night. “I felt like a spotlight was on me, everyone was watching me.”

“Well, what did she say, how did she approach the subject? It’s pretty horrific,” I said. “I had a few Aunts who lived through that nightmare and some who unfortunately didn’t. They were in concentration camps during the war. Never wanted to talk about it. Too gruesome I suppose.”

“I’ve read ‘Number the Stars’, Dad,” Sakura said. “And I know about the yellow stars we were forced to wear. I know about Anne Frank too. That’s what I told Mrs. Ingram when she said some people think the Holocaust is a hoax and never happened. Like, how could you even fake something like that?” 

Aimi and my eyes met, concern flowing between them. But before either of us could speak, Sakura did. 

“Mom, weren’t Grandma and Grandpa in a camp too?,” Sakura asked, eyes turning towards Aimi. 

“Yes, yes they were,” Aimi answered. “It was different though, still awful, but different. After Pearl Harbor, you learned about that, right?”

“Yeah, Japan bombed it.”

“Correct, and everyone was so scared of Asian people that the President signed off on building internment camps where Japanese people, even if they were born in America, were ‘relocated’,” Aimi air quoted “relocated.”  

“Why, they didn’t do the bombing?”

“True, but they were viewed as possible spies. We were at war. It was a terrible terrible thing. A real black mark on our country,” Aimi explained. 

“So,” Sakura hesitated, “I have relatives on both sides of the family who were locked up in camps?”

“Yup, guess so,” I said, shaking my head. “Stinks, huh? What did your teacher say when you spoke up?”

“Oh, she said she was telling us what some people thought about the camps not being real and that everybody has a right to their own opinion.”  

“Except that this is not opinion,” I said, “it’s fact.” It is one of the worst chapters in human history. 

As were the Japanese camps, one of the worst chapters in American history.”  

After dinner, Sakura went to her

room to finish her homework and Aimi and I had a chance to talk. 

“I think I might just need to pay a visit to her school and discuss this. I’m getting a holocaust denier vibe here and if so, well, let’s just see,” I said.  

“Should I come too?,” Aimi asked.

“Sure, this way it won’t just be the cranky Jew complaining,”

I said, smiling.  

“How was school today, baby?,”

I asked. Still learning about the war?” 

“Did you say something to Mrs. Ingram about what we talked about Dad?”  

“Why do you ask?”

“She seemed to be backpedaling a little on what she said the other day. Said she got some complaints and didn’t mean to offend anybody. I stayed after class and told her about the Japanese camps. She said she knew all about that and what a terrible thing it was. ‘And in this country too.’ I told her I had family on both sides that suffered in camps during the war, for different reasons. People died in both. The difference was that one side was incarcerated while the other side was incinerated. She told me she’s been advised to read a book called ‘Night’ by, I think his name is Eddy Wizel.”

“Elie Wiesel, honey, and that’s a good place to start,” I said. “I’m very proud of you.”  

March 31, 2023 21:40

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Michał Przywara
03:50 Apr 10, 2023

A good story, about some extremely ugly history. That some people deny it even happened is precisely why stories about it need to exist. Sakura's a character that's very easy to root for. Not only is she leaving childhood and looking to the future, but she's also discovering her roots, and all the trouble both sides of her family endured - in living memory, no less. And then add prejudice and denial, and I'm sure there's many more interesting stories this character could go through while growing up. The line "The difference was that one si...


Andrew Fruchtman
12:31 Apr 11, 2023

Thanks so much Michael, yeah, not any easy subject to be sure but necessary to keep alive. Thanks for commenting.


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Glenda Toews
01:35 Apr 05, 2023

I had to scroll to the top to see if it was non fiction... it was fiction? I was surprised, It sounded like you indeed lived that.


Andrew Fruchtman
02:10 Apr 05, 2023

Thanks for the feedback Glenda, this wasn’t an easy write for me. Elements of truth and history in there but otherwise fictional. Hope you liked it.


Glenda Toews
02:16 Apr 05, 2023

I don't like the fact that 'camps' existed for the family, I don't like a society that erases, changes or denies historic events. I do like the daughter's gumption. I do like the fact that you wrote what is difficult. This world needs more of that. Thanks for pushing through.


Andrew Fruchtman
04:09 Apr 05, 2023

Appreciated. TY!


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