Staying Put in New Orleans

For Jewish kids growing up in America, Holocaust education is a fact of life. And there comes a certain plateau — or there did for me anyway — where I thought I pretty much knew everything I was going to learn about the Holocaust. And if I was going to have any kind of a revelation, I didn't expect it to be in New Orleans.

Marta Schnabel, a lawyer in New Orleans for about 25 years, was head of the Louisiana Bar Association for a year after Hurricane Katrina.

It seems like almost every interview in New Orleans eventually turns to the question of why people have decided to stay. This one did too. Marta told me she thinks about her teenage children and whether they have a future in New Orleans. When I asked why she hasn't relocated her family, she said, "It's so hard to think about leaving your home."

"I'm a child of folks who left Germany as Jews shortly before World War II actually in 1939," said Schnabel. And the decision to leave was postponed by my family for so long, so they got out just before the invasion of Poland."

She told me that she often criticized her parents' decision not to leave earlier.

"You know, historically thinking back on it (and so many of the other family members died) this is probably a terrible analogy, but I understand it now," she said, referring to the Holocaust.

I know the quickest way to turn people off is by comparing anything to the Holocaust. But I thought this was actually a pretty good analogy.

"One considers all kinds of options, but to make the actual choice to leave the place you've called home for a long time is difficult. Your emotional ties, your professional ties, your personal ties are all in this place, and you love it. I love living here; just as I'm sure my father's family loved living in Hamburg," she said.

Years of Holocaust classes in Sunday school and I never understood why so many Jews in Europe who could have left before World War II didn't — even when the writing was on the wall. To me, Hamburg, Warsaw, Berlin are just cities. Like New Orleans.

To Marta Schnabel, New Orleans is home.

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