A Southerner, Mr. Abe, and Charlottesville

By: By Mac McPhail - Contributing columnist

It’s a fact, I’m a son of the South. I was born at Dr. Brewer’s clinic over in Roseboro, and was raised on a tobacco farm here in Sampson County. I attended Clement School, with a graduating class of around 40 students. Our ball teams were called the Rebels. I have been to Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker Band concerts, but have heard southern gospel groups like the Happy Goodman Family and the Oak Ridge Boys. (That was before they strayed into heathen country music.) I love grits, not oatmeal, and chicken pastry, not something called chicken dumplings.

I am a son of the South. It’s my heritage. But that doesn’t mean I approve of everything that has gone on in the South over the years. Slavery was wrong. Jim Crow laws were wrong. The Civil War should have never happened. The way African-Americans were, and have been, treated over the years is wrong. I know it is a sad part of my heritage I wish wasn’t there. But it is.

But it bothers me when I see a group or individuals tearing down or defacing a Confederate monument. I get the feeling, whether it is right or wrong, that they are almost attacking me, my heritage. The Civil War was waged for the wrong reasons, but most Confederate soldiers who fought never owned slaves. Though misguided, they were primarily fighting for their families, their land, and their fellow soldiers, not for state’s rights and slavery. Maybe it’s not wrong to honor them in some ways, while being sensitive to the realities of slavery and those it harmed.

It bothered me far worse the other Saturday when I saw protestors in Charlottesville carrying Nazi flags, yelling anti-Jewish chants and doing the “Heil Hitler!” salute. They were there supposedly to protest the decision to take down a statue of General Robert E. Lee. There were other groups alongside there protesting the removal, maybe with good intentions, but probably not. It looked like they were primarily mad people just wanting to fight. But anytime you are also associating with a group of Nazis, you are in the wrong. You shouldn’t be there.

(By the way, it seemed all that most of the counter-protestors wanted to do was also fight. And if your protest group includes many Communists and anarchists, you probably don’t need to be there, either.)

I wonder if Mr. Abe was watching all of this. I wrote about Mr. Abe last year. I got to know Abe Piasek last year when he came to speak at Harrells Christian Academy. Born in Poland, Mr. Abe was a Jewish prisoner in German concentration camps during World War II. He was just 11 years old when the Germans invaded Poland. He shared how when he was 12, he and a young Jewish friend were walking through his town. German soldiers stopped them and asked if they were Jewish. When they said yes, one of the soldiers took out his pistol and shot his friend in the head. Mr. Abe ran and managed to escape for a short time.

Taken away by the Nazis to a concentration camp when he was 12, Mr. Abe would never see his parents again. He survived with help from others, fate, and the shear will to hang on. A couple of events he described stuck in my memory.

The Germans used the Jews for forced labor. If you couldn’t do the job you were dead. Mr. Abe was assigned to a crew to carry 50 pound bags of cement off boxcars to be used in repairing airplane runways. The Jewish prisoners had to carry 2 bags at a time, one on each shoulder. If you couldn’t, or you fell because of the heavy load, the Nazi soldiers would shoot, kill the prisoner, and throw them to the side off the loading platform. He said the stack of dead Jewish prisoners grew day by day, the Germans not even bothering to carry them away.

Mr. Abe described how they were packed in a cattle car on a train heading toward a concentration camp. As they grew closer to the camp, he could smell the aroma of what he thought was bacon cooking. Nearly starving, due to the little food provided by the Germans, he was hoping he would finally have something decent to eat. He was wrong. The smell was from the bodies of Jewish prisoners being burned in the huge ovens after they had been gassed to death by the Germans.

It seems that a lot of people are bothered by recent events. People are bothered if Confederate statues stay up, and people are bothered if they come down. But if we continue to let hatred take root in this country, no matter what form or side it takes, we may end up being bothered by something much worse. Just as Mr. Abe. He has seen it. Think about that the next time you are driving near the Smithfield Foods plant here in Clinton, and can smell the bacon being processed.

By Mac McPhail

Contributing columnist