Eemah’s Spielberg Testimony

Last night, Walter and I watched my Mom’s testimony now archived in Spielberg’s Survivors of the Holocaust Visual History Foundation. How difficult it was for her to speak.  My mom answered questions, visibly trying to maintain her composure.  She rarely volunteered information.  She was sad.  If this testimony were all you were ever to see of my Eemah, you wouldn’t see her wonderful sense of humor, her moxie, the upbeatness that she took pride in, indeed.  That’s what talking about the Holocaust did to her.  It drained her.  She got into “managing” mode…..managing emotions, managing the situations in which she was rendered powerless….

There are stories, for which I am grateful, that Walter and I know that never made it into the tape.  She is too modest and humble to share.  She was careful. Yet, she was very honest about her life with my Abba.  How difficult life was for them when enduring my Dad’s depressions.  How unbelievably she filled in the empty spaces for me and my brother.

Still, I learned things from the testimony that I was ready to hear.

September 1, 1939,  the Nazis invaded Poland.  By Friday, September 3, the Nazis overtook Czestochowa.   By Monday, “Bloody Monday”, the Nazis had rounded up all the men, my grandfather, Avraham, and Uncle Daniel, my Eemah’s brother, included.  My grandmother, Bluma, my Dodah (Aunt) Mania, and my Eemah were frantic with worry.

They went together searching for husband/father and son/brother.  The men were kept captive all over Czestochova.  They were captive in churches and public buildings.  They went from church to church.  They didn’t find them.  The next day, I think, they decided to search separately so that they could cover more ground.  My Mom embarrassedly remembered being “naive” and “stupid” to be carrying a picture of her brother.  She went to a “young, good looking” German and, showing him the picture, asked him if he had seen her brother.  He took her to a field of dead people and horses and made her lift up the leg of a dead horse to start looking for her brother.  Still reeling with shock and disbelief as she tells (told) this story, we reel with her.

I must remark that I continue to shift between the present and the past tense as I recall my Eemah talking as if in the moment.  How the past lives in the present.  When coupled with consciousness, this immediacy of history is a good thing.

My Eemah didn’t find her brother.  Nor did her mother or sister find him or Avraham.  However, some time after, the two men, father and son, returned.  They were happy.  That is what “happiness” became,  just being alive and together.  How often I’ve heard and read in the memoirs of survivors that between shocks and tragic losses, life “normalized.”  They “managed.”     No more said.

There was a life before the war.

My Eemah was one of three siblings.  Her Eemah had seven siblings and her Abba had nine siblings….I only know two of my grandmother’s (Savta’s)  siblings by name.  Yitzchak Szhacher  and Rochma Szhacher.  My mom mentioned an aunt and cousin in Warsaw to whom they sent food and money with a Polish policemen who went to Warsaw for a while when things got bad in the Warsaw Ghetto.  I know three of my grandfather’s brothers.  They made it to the States before the war broke out.  My Uncle Henry Grun (umlau) made it to San Francisco after World War I.  My Uncle Jack made it with my Aunt Sophie and son, Luther, in 1936 or ’37.    They couldn’t get my Grandfather and family out of Poland on time.  How many people in our family I will never know.

My Eemah’s family was not Orthodox Jewish, but very observant and traditional.  My Mom went to the equivalent of a Jewish Day School and started Gimnazium (high school) before the war broke out.  The family had a grocery store with emphasis, it sounded like,  on coffees and teas.  They worked hard and were well off.

There was a Jewish nanny in the house to care for the cooking and cleaning for the family because both parents worked.

They had non Jewish customers and neighbors.  However, the people closest to them were Jewish.

Because of Kashrut, they didn’t eat at non Jewish friends’ houses, but these friends were invited to eat with them on occasion.

There were cordial relationships between my Eemah’s family and the Polish people.


Walter’s first post

So much is happening that it is difficult to keep it all straight. As Ruthie says, next time we go on a tour!

Today we found more Elias ancestors in the Hachenburg Jewish Cemetery. Our friends in Cologne have been so nice to help us locate family, offer to take us to Hachenburg, as well as put us up for a few days in Cologne. We so look forward to meeting them. It was their father and mother who knew my Uncle Gene (my father’s brother) and saved some members of my family from the Nazi’s. Returning the favor, my Uncle Gene helped get their father out of an American POW camp. It feels like closing a circle to be meeting their children (now our age).

Other developments:

JoAnn Magnuson, our dear friend here in Minneapolis, has arranged for us to meet two brothers one of whom is a Pastor who in Slovakia and the Ukraine works with aging Holocaust survivors. We probably will meet them in Krakow but it would be awesome if we could go to Auschwitz together.

Recently we watched the new Polish film, Aftermath, which has created quite a stir in Poland. A man living in a small village in Poland starts collecting Jewish tombstones which were used for paving stones on rural roads. His brother newly arrived from Chicago falls into a mystery that threatens to engulf both of them. Somewhat heavy on the symbolism, yet an important film. Wed are meeting with the distributor and producer in Warsaw. Other film news: We will meet with the director of the Berlin JFF and a Polish film maker in Warsaw who brought her film to our festival. All of these personal contacts will enliven our experience.

Visited my friend Bob Veitch today post heart surgery and he is doing great. I gave him a book which he had already read and referred to me. Isn’t aging fun!

What’s harder?

It turns out to be harder to blog.  After I saved a draft, I couldn’t continue to type.  The keyboard was stuck.  I wonder what that was about.

I left off at the Stolperstein.  That and the street signs in the Bavarian district documenting the Nazi edicts strangling the life out of the Jewish people in Germany said to me and Walter that Germany as a nation and many of its people acknowledge their collective guilt in the attempted genocide.  They have a conscience and want to become a better nation.  They want to understand themselves and make amends.

Ah, now it’s harder to communicate what it means for me to go to Germany and Poland.  About making amends and forgiveness, I must say that I don’t believe that’s possible.  We of the present are not the ones that can do that.  What we can do is learn and determine to be good people in the present and if that means cleaning up  the mess of the past, so be it.  However, that turns out to be ever so much richer, interesting, rewarding, and hopeful than it sounds.  I want to be a part of that.  I want to visit that Germany.  I want to meet German people.

And one more time, I’ll say it.  I couldn’t go to Germany from where Walter’s family fled without going to Poland where my parents lost their youth and most of our very large family.  And now that I’m going, I’m learning that conscience is beginning to stir in some Polish people as well.  This will make our time there easier.

I’m already grateful that I’m learning so much that I didn’t know about my family.  Walter is also very engaged in recovering his family.  We’re sharing an amazing experience.











What’s harder? Preparing to go to Germany and Poland or starting a blog?

It’s Memorial Day today, May 27, 2013. I’m starting to blog on Memorial Day, but memory, filling in the spaces between what I do know with what I don’t, is what Walter and I are working on for weeks already in preparation for this trip.  I never thought I would go to Poland.  When I offered Savta, my Eemah, to go with her on a closure trip  as so many survivor families were doing, she said that if we have the time and the money to travel together, we should go to Hawaii.  We didn’t get to it, and I have not been to Hawaii yet either.

My Abba, was offered an opportunity to go to Germany to testify about his experiences and the perpetrators he knew.  He chose to testify from the U.S.  They were never going back.

Things change.  Germany, as a country, has shown remorse and taken steps to atone.  The Holocaust Memorial by Eisenman and the Jewish Museum by Libeskind; the Stolperstein (I found my way back to this blog today, May 28. I’m glad I get to explain stolperstein and not leave us hanging.) Actually stolperstein was an appropriate place to stumble because stolperstein are stumbling stones made of bronze set into the cobblestones or pavement in front of the last home a Jewish family lived in and was forced to leave. People tend to walk around them because they think of these stones in the same way that they would a gravestone. However, we’re meant to step on them and stumble over them to remember what human beings are capable of doing to each other. If we walk around them, these stones don’t get polished and become dark from oxidation. If we stumble over them, they stay bright and polished. What a metaphor!