Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Greatest Generation

Saved from WBR Museum
by Madeleine Kando

I never liked groups very much. I instinctively mistrust them, probably because, in my childhood I was a refugee, fleeing from the persecution of one group by another. I am a loner, at heart and feel quite comfortable being one. But there is one group to which I belong whether I like it or not: I belong to a certain generation. Since I stopped trying to hide my grey hair (a very liberating, economical and time-saving decision), I have become interested in where I fit in, in the grander scheme of things. It’s tempting to try to fit yourself into a certain category, as if belonging to the 'baby boomer generation' means anything more than that one is born between 1944 and 1964.

What IS a 'generation' anyway? The word 'generation' comes from the Latin 'generare', which means 'to beget', also known as procreation, or the act of producing offspring. This is called 'familial generation', which used to span on the average 16 years, from the time that someone was born until they begat their first child. I am sure that has changed over the years. As human life has gotten longer, so has a generation. So your children automatically belong to a different familial generation than you. The other interpretation of a generation is 'cultural generation'. This is a more interesting definition of a generation, i.e. the people or events that have influenced you as a human being over the course of your life. My suspicion is that one of the more important influences on one's generation is the generation that went before it.

Take my father, for instance. He officially belongs to the 'Greatest Generation', those that fought and died in the Second World War. Even though he didn't die in the war, my father was a war hero, saving many Jews from being deported to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. He came of age during the thirties, the years between the two world wars and, even though he was born in Hungary, he much preferred to live in Paris, which was then the center of artistic life in Europe. He was a painter.

There is a reason why his generation is called the 'Greatest Generation'. The war, horrible as it was, also empowered men to become brave and self-sacrificing. The war gave them a clear, unequivocal purpose. I remember my sense of admiration, a feeling bordering on envy while I was growing up. At a time when I was searching for my own meaning in life, I had to compete with the almost Godlike deeds that came through in my mother's accounts of what happened in the war. My parents were both in the Hungarian resistance, falsifying papers for their Jewish friends, my father risking his life by impersonating an SS officer so he could take Jews off the departing train wagons on their way to Dachau. Stories of rape, murder, persecution and heroic escapes were served to me for breakfast every day. I have never lost the feeling of awe for my parents' generation: they WERE the greatest generation.

The Greatest Generation not only produced brave men, like my father, it also gave us one of the greatest American Presidents in history, John F. Kennedy. It gave us a generation of unforgettable actors like Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, William Holden and Yul Brynner. There was something so manly about all of them, as if they knew that they belonged to an invincible, larger than life generation. They hardly had to act, it was who they were.

Like I said, it was hard to compete with my parents' generation. Maybe that is why my generation is called 'The Silent Generation'. There wasn't much to say. The old adage, that every generation surpasses the previous one is not true. There are some generations that stand out, larger than life, like beacons in the night. They show us what we can be and maybe what we should be, especially now that the baby boomers have made such a mess of things. It's not too late, millennials, the ball is in your court now. leave comment here