It was 1978 when the 14th Annual Firelands Boy Scout-o-Rama got underway. The fall colors painted the scene and the sounds of excitement of busy scouts engaged in their favorite activities filled the fresh air. It was at events such as this where new friendships were born among scouts of all walks of life, aided by the sense of brotherhood bestowed upon all scouts by the Boy Scout organization itself. Despite the comradery felt among all the attendees, at least two boys would cut short their newly formed friendship based on their perceived “difference” of one another.
This scout-o-rama allowed Al, a 12 year old rural farm boy from a predominantly German-American township, to meet Joe, a 12 year old Jewish boy from the big city of Cleveland. Al and Joe became friends early on during the event through their common interest in archery. As their friendship grew, the two boys began sharing information about themselves and about where they lived in an attempt to get to know each other better. The conversation went well until the subject of Al’s last name came up. “What sort of name is Knopf?” Joe asked. Al replied that it was a German name. Suddenly, Joe became overcome by a feeling of fear and anxiety. Flashbacks of earlier events of ridicule, assault, and property damage aimed at Joe by German and other non-Jewish bullies at school raced through Joe’s head. Tales from his grandfather who endured the horrors at Auschwitz during World War II also crept up into his mind giving him a sick feeling. “What if he learned that I was Jewish?” thought Joe. “Would he be my friend for a while then turn on me?” Joe figured that he must end this relationship immediately to prevent any future pain. Joe, in an awkward position, then blurted “You probably won’t want to hang out with me anymore.”
Al, with a puzzled look, asked Joe why would he think such a thing. Joe replied, “Well, I’m Jewish and Germans don’t like Jews.” “Nonsense” said Al, “ I have no reason or desire to treat you any different from anyone else.” “Well, how do you explain the things that went on during World War II between the Germans and the Jews?” asked Joe. “What?” said Al. “You know, Jews in the ovens, concentration camps, and stuff” replied Joe.
“Man, I never heard of that sort of stuff going on” said Al. “All I know is stuff about the American Revolution and the American Civil War.” Al went on to explain that just because he has German ancestry, it doesn’t mean that he is a Nazi himself.
Joe wanted to believe Al was different from the others but he still had that uneasy feeling that continued to linger inside of him. Joe felt that he had better play it safe and go his separate way. Al on the other hand, felt embarrassed and angry. He felt that it was unfair for him to carry the shame and guilt for an awful crime on humanity just because he shared a common heritage with those who were responsible for the crimes. “It is like me being locked up for a bank robbery my grandfather committed fifty years before I was even conceived” Al thought.
The two boys said their last goodbyes and went on to do other things. Both wished the past could have been different, thus preventing the dismantling of an otherwise good friendship. Joe yearned for a way to erase the pain and anxiety he felt when socializing with his people’s former persecutors. Likewise, Al wished to erase the past that blemished the credibility of his ancestors. They know what was done in the past, however, cannot be changed. Hopefully, this incident will give the two boys something to think about how it feels to feel different even though they belong to a common organization. Perhaps these boys will learn from the past and try to view people for what they are as an individual and not as some stereotype.
Twenty-three years has past and Al is about to marry a Native American. Sure, there is a difference in culture between the two, but they recognize the individual qualities of each other and not the racial stereotypes that may be connected to their ethnicity. There are no arguments about Al’s ancestors taking her ancestors land away or Indians killing white settlers. They both set aside their differences and found that people can indeed live together in harmony no matter what race, culture, or ethnicity they may be.
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