Hate, it seems, is always burning like a fire in a hearth, threatening when the conditions are right to jump its confinement and burn down everything around it.

The flames of hate were rising in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1943. They scattered 6-year-old Michael Klahr and his family, sending them all into hiding.

“I lived with the rabbits as a hidden child from the winter of 1943 to the end of the war,” Klahr said later. “In those three years I had no friends, I never went to school, and both of my parents were murdered.”

The Nazis took an ancient hatred and formalized and mechanized it. They built a system to dehumanize an entire people with the goal of exterminating them. That is why the Holocaust is so chilling.

But it is the individual stories like that of the Klahr family that make it so tragic, each one representing unimaginable personal loss. In just a few years, the fires of hate consumed millions of unique souls.

You can learn the Klahr family story at the Michael Klahr Center, home of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta. There is also an online video. Both are worth your time.

Here’s just a bit of the story.

Michael Klahr’s parents moved from Poland to Paris in the 1928 seeking opportunity. They found it, and were successful business owners until Nazi rule made running a business — or owning a house, or going to school — illegal for Jews.

It soon became clear the family would not last long in Paris — “Jews just disappeared in the night,” Klahr said later. “Nobody knew where” — so they left. For safety, they separated.

That’s when Klahr was sent to the rabbit farm, where he hid until the end of the war. For the rest of his life, Klahr would stop himself from sneezing, a habit picked up while avoiding capture. Having heard Nazi troops stomping nearby, the sound of boots would always scare him.

Klahr saw his mother for the last time at age 6 when she visited the farm. They played and laughed, and when his mom had to leave, she told him his father would visit soon.

Not long after, Nazis came upon his mother having dinner at a restaurant with a Jewish man, and both were taken away.

Then, his father, likely picking up food on the way to visit his son, was part of a group of Jews removed by Nazis from a cafe and shot on the spot.

Michael Klahr ended up in Brooklyn, New York, as an orphan. He became a successful businessman. Along the way, he met and married the love of his life, Phyllis Jalbert, a native of Fort Kent, Maine.

Michael Klahr died in 1998, but not before he told his story. It is as relevant as ever today, almost 74 years to the day after the Nazis were finally, officially defeated.

Israel marked its Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, May 1 amid rising global anti-Semitism. In ways large and small, deliberate and just careless, hate and dehumanization of Jews is seeping back into the public sphere.

Anti-Semitism is tracking with the rise of ultranationalism and extreme right-wing movements in Europe and the U.S., with the recent shootings at American synagogues just the most violent examples.

And these groups are leveling at immigrants now the same attacks once aimed at European Jews, raising the specter that again a large group deemed “outsiders” may be vulnerable to the virus of group hate.

The fires of hate still burn, ready for the right conditions. Stories like that of the Klahr family show just how quickly it can burn out of control.


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