Har­ry Brod is a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy and human­i­ties at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North­ern Iowa and the author of Super­man is Jew­ish?: How Com­ic Book Super­heroes Came to Serve Truth, Jus­tice, and the Jew­ish-Amer­i­can Way (Free Press; Novem­ber 2012). He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I always have a valid pass­port. I keep it with­in easy access and I know just where it is, and I’ve made sure my kids have one too. You nev­er know. It’s not that I’m para­noid – well, maybe it is, but that’s not how I think of it – it’s that I’m a child of Holo­caust sur­vivors. I used to think of my need to be exit ready as a fear of being trapped, but I’ve real­ized it’s got very lit­tle to do with what I think about the present or future. It’s about the past. It’s a link to my par­ents, a way of keep­ing their world­view alive in me. As bizarre as it may sound – at least to those who aren’t chil­dren of sur­vivors, but I expect those who share my back­ground will under­stand – not to have a valid pass­port feels to me like a betray­al of my par­ents, a fail­ure to heed hard won lessons.

Actu­al­ly, I should clar­i­fy that, when I speak of myself as a child of Holo­caust sur­vivors, the iden­ti­ty I real­ly claim is that I’m a child of tem­po­rary Holo­caust sur­vivors. What I mean is that while my par­ents sur­vived the war years, they both died younger than I think they would have had they not had to endure the hard­ships and trau­mas of those years. They sur­vived, but only tem­porar­i­ly, my moth­er hav­ing died by age 49 and my father by 59.

My moth­er was Ger­man and my father was Pol­ish, and I know that after the war they con­tem­plat­ed mov­ing to Switzer­land, but our cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus would­n’t have been as firm­ly secure as that of native-born Swiss, and they weren’t about to accept any sort of sec­ond-class cit­i­zen­ship.

Here’s a sto­ry my father told me about how he got his US citizenship:

The pro­ce­dure was that he appeared before a mag­is­trate or judge of some sort and was asked basic civics ques­tions, pre­sum­ably by an immi­gra­tion offi­cial. (I’ve got only my father’s ver­sion of this.) One ques­tion put to him was as fol­lows: You say you’re going to be a law-abid­ing cit­i­zen in the US, but in Europe the law required Jews to turn them­selves in. You did­n’t. So why should we believe you?”

You can imag­ine the time I’ve spent try­ing to puz­zle out what could pos­si­bly bring some­one to ask such a ques­tion. Per­haps my father’s Eng­lish was­n’t good enough and he mis­heard the ques­tion. Maybe the inter­roga­tor thought he was lob­bing my father an easy pitch, expect­ing some pat answer like Oh, I know that would nev­er hap­pen here.” Or maybe the guy real­ly was that much of a fool.

In any case, what­ev­er was actu­al­ly said or meant, that’s how my father heard the ques­tion. To his eter­nal cred­it, as I always say when I tell the sto­ry, my father turned to the judge and said: Bring in some­one else to ask me ques­tions. I’m through talk­ing to him.”

The judge reas­sured my father not to wor­ry, he would get his citizenship.

Find out more about Har­ry Brod here.