As harrowing as Geddy Lee's family history is, the most important fact about it is that it is not unique. Because like countless Jewish people from around the world, the story of the Holocaust is also the story of who Geddy Lee is and how he wound up where he is today.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Sunday, January 27, 2019, the legendary bassist and front man for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Rush shared his family's incredible survival story with Q104.3 New York's Sonstein Sunday with Shelli Sonstein.
Lee's parents, Morris and Mary Weinrib, met as adolescents in Nazi work camps in Poland at the beginning of World War II. Their relationship blossomed as the war intensified and as their situation became more and more grave.
"My mum and dad were in Auschwitz for a couple of years," Geddy tells the show. "How they survived in there I don't know. My dad was transferred out of Auschwitz before my mother was. My mother, her sister and [their] mother survived together in Auschwitz."
Geddy continues, relating a story from his grandmother.
"[The soldiers] would line them up every day. They would go 'left, right, left, right.' If you went to one direction, you went to the gas chambers, if you went to the other direction, you went to work. So my grandmother would rearrange them in the lineup so they all went in the same direction. She believed that if they were all going to perish, they would perish together, and if they were all going to survive, they would survive together. My grandmother was an amazing person, she kept them alive throughout their time in the camps."
Geddy knows his family story well because his mother never kept the details from he and his siblings. It was Mary's duty to make sure her children knew where they came from and why they should be grateful for what they had, growing up in suburban Toronto, Ontario.
His earliest memories are of his mother recounting what she endured during World War II. As a child, the stories gave him nightmares, but as an adult Geddy learned to be thankful his mother didn't hold back.
"I remember my mother constantly reinforcing the idea that we had to keep the family together because these terrible things can happen."
Just like his Holocaust-survivor family members formed a community around others in Canada with similar experiences, Geddy says he's gone on to form close friendships with other children of survivors.
Knowing the awful truth about the Holocaust from an early age gave him "a better perspective on things," Geddy says.
Such formative experiences have, of course, affected his music. Rush's "Red Sector A" and "Grace to Grace" from Geddy's 2000 solo album both deal with the Holocaust.
But Geddy believes his worldview is seismically affected by his family's story. The lessons he learned from the Holocaust are inextricable from anything he does and any decision he makes.
"I don't feel like I was scarred by her experiences, I feel like I was made wiser by her experiences," he concludes. "It helped me view the world in a different way and to fight intolerance and to fight for humanity. It made me a liberal thinker, and I remain a liberal thinker. Especially in this day and age when the word 'liberal' is quickly becoming a dirty word, I think it's important to fight for those things."
You can watch the full interview with Geddy Lee in the player above.
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