Being fat has saved my family not once, not twice but thrice in the last century or so. So I’ve decided that I am going to tell you a little bit about their stories. And then you can come to your own conclusions.
How fat saved my family part 1: running through the desert
In 1915, the Ottoman empire decided that it needed to rid itself of its non-Muslim elements. At the time, over a million Armenians were living in what is now modern day Turkey, and that included my great-grandparents. There was a lot of propaganda at the time that described Armenians as traitors, spies, vermin and infidels.
In February, a prominent politician said that it was “absolutely necessary to eliminate the Armenian people in its entirety, so that there is no further Armenian on this earth and the very concept of Armenia is extinguished”. And thus began the Armenian genocide.
The able bodied men were massacred. The women, children, elderly and infirm were lead in to the desert on the now infamous death marches. Over a million were killed. Hitler famously referenced the Armenian genocide back in 1939 (more on him later).
The Armenian Genocide
Swathes of people were burned, drowned, poisoned by doctors, and forced in to concentration camps. My grandmother frequently told us stories of how an army of Kurdish fighters rode in to their village on horses with their swords drawn. They decaptitated each and every one of the villagers without ever once dismounting their horses.
My great-grandfather was a young boy at the time, and the sword did not reach his neck. He sustained multiple head wounds (the scars of which he bore until the day he died). He watched his mother and father bleed out in front of him, and her dying words were to take his brother and run.
So he did. He ran in to the Syrian desert. Just the two of them. Alone. In the desert.
Now, here’s something you need to know about my Armenian family. They’re fat. I mean every single one of them is fat.
So two little fat kids took off into the Syrian desert and lived off camel urine until they came across a tribe of Bedouins who took them in. They survived. When you read stories of the death marches, it is clear that the majority of people died. Those that managed to escape the genocide lost everything and immediately became destitute.
Want to know who copes best in times of famine and poverty? Why, fat people of course!
How fat saved my family part 2: running through the forest
In 1919, the city of Kyiv (the capital of Ukraine) was under the control of the Bolsheviks. They had been briefly occupied by the Germans during the great war and it was a time of great civil unrest. The government decided that the best way to divert attention away from them was to find a scapegoat.
And who is everyone’s favourite scapegoat? You guessed it. The Jews!!! In 1919, Kyiv had the largest concentration of Jews in that part of the world. The government portrayed them as exploiters who leeched off society and robbed the working man of his hard-earned cash.
They stirred up so much anger and mistrust that a volunteer army called the White Army systematically began looting Jewish owned businesses and homes, raping Jewish women, and murdering an untold numbers of them. Now I know what you are thinking – White Army? I know, right?!
The Ukranian Pogroms
These uprisings were called Pogroms, and over a thousand of them took place all over the Ukraine over the next few years. Estimates put the number of Jews killed between 300, 000 and 700, 000. I read somewhere that 1 in 3 women were raped. Jewish families lost everything, were forced to flee their homes and run for their lives.
My maternal grandmother’s was one of those families. They fled to Brazil. Now, here’s something you need to know about my Ukranian family. They’re fat. And I mean every single one of them is fat.
They arrived in Rio de Janeiro with nothing but the fur coats on their back (very useful in the Brazilian climate, let me tell you). And they survived. No, they thrived. They bought property, they found jobs. They married and had children. I am here today because these amazing women survived the Pogroms, the arduous journey to a far off land, and the newfound poverty they were faced with.
How fat saved my family part 3: running from the Nazis
In the early 1930s, a man named Adolf Hitler rose to power. Within a few years his Nazi party declared war on the world. Not just the world, but also the Jews. Six million of them were murdered. But what you might not have considered, is that some survived. My Grandfather was one of them.
My Grandfather’s family came from Konitz (a small village in Poland). His father was one of 12 siblings. My Grandfather escaped Nazi Germany via the UK, and was eventually forced to leave and ended up in Brazil. There he met my grandmother and did not live happily ever after. But that’s a story of another day.
I have traced my family tree as far back as the early 1900s, and I can tell you that a number of my relatives were killed in Auschwitz. That being said, a number of them survived too. They walked out of that concentration camp and lived to a ripe old age. My Grandfather managed to escape the camps, but he didn’t exactly have an easy time of it either.
Now, here’s something you need to know about my German/Polish family. They’re fat. And I mean every single one of them is fat. And a good thing too, because the skinny ones were the first to die in the camps.
In fact, when they first arrived at Auschwitz, they would have been stripped of their clothing and forced to undergo a “medical examination”. Anyone who looked well enough to work was allowed to live. Those who were emaciated were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas chambers. Bear in mind that they had already been through years of enforced labour, torture and poverty.
In order to survive, you needed some meat on your bones. You needed to be able to hold on to your fat stores for as long as possible. And that goes for pretty much any group of people that suddenly finds themselves falling upon hard times.
How fat might save your family too
For most of us, these are just stories. We may have read about them in a book or seen them in a movie. Maybe we studied them in our history classes. But it is virtually impossible to relate to any of it. Why?
Well think about it. When was the last time our lives were threatened by poverty, war or famine? These kind of things don’t happen to modern societies. But that being said, I imagine my grandparents and great grandparents felt the same way at the time. There was no way they could have seen it coming either. A good friend of mine likes to tell the story of the Armenian genocide like this.
Once upon a time we were sitting in our house drinking cup of tea when all of a sudden a man with a sword come to our house and he say:
“Excuse me, put down your cup of tea and come with me!”
And we say, “Wait a minute. We just drinking cup of tea. We no hurting nobody. Why we come with you?”
And then he take out his sword and he chop off our heads.
[Just to be clear, that sounds a lot funnier when you say it with an Armenian accent.]
And whilst it is a little crude and insensitive the sentiment is accurate (my friend is Armenian so he gets away with it). On all three occasions, my family was minding their own business drinking their tea and getting on with their day.
They had no way of knowing what was around the corner. And when hard times befell them, being overweight was the least of their problems. In fact, being overweight may well have saved their lives.
Will fat save my family in the future?
Now I am not trying to suggest that we all pile on the pounds in case we become the unsuspecting victims of the next genocide. I’m not trying to argue that being overweight is good for you either. I’m just trying to point out that time moves fast.
One minute it is business as usual. The next you are fleeing for your life. Or drowning in a Tusnami. Or trying to survive the modern day plague. The things we focus on today may end up being rather trivial tomorrow.
So we need to gain a little perspective.
Being overweight is almost certainly bad for you. But on three separate occasions, fat saved my family from extinction. Nowadays we’d rather look like a concentration camp survivor than we would be obese. But people who actually survived concentration camps, didn’t exactly care what they looked like.
So let’s take a moment to gain a little perspective, shall we? There are far more important things to be focusing on nowadays.
[That being said, you should continue to read my blog. Obvs!]
I love sharing stories about my family. If you have a story to share, then why not leave a comment below. Or maybe get in touch with me if you’d like to collaborate in any way. If you’d like to know more about me, including how to subscribe to me mailing list then click here.