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Postcards From My Mother’s Holocaust

Watching Ken Burns' documentary on the War, I note that it's been ten years since my mother died. When she was alive, her defining features were her inability to locate her reading glasses (which were usually on top of her … Read More

By / September 26, 2007

Watching Ken Burns' documentary on the War, I note that it's been ten years since my mother died.

When she was alive, her defining features were her inability to locate her reading glasses (which were usually on top of her head), her strong desire that I eat healthy (including "hiding" wheat toast on the bottom of a tuna sandwich topped with a disguise of white toast), and her inability to throw anything out (her modus operandi was to rifle through the refrigerator and pull out items with the plea, "Quick somebody eat this before it goes bad!").

After she died in 1997, I found her secret cache of documents in the basement. Among them were 4 postcards from France. (Apparently mail from the camps continued throughout the war.)

These postcards were from the Nazi concentration camp called Gurs in the Pyrenees mountains. She had never told me she had been in a camp. She'd never even told me she wasn't born in Queens until I was in high school.

When I had come home from 7th grade history class asking if she knew what had happened in Germany, she peered at me through those big glasses and "I remember a fence we had run under and some men got made at us." And then she had returned to folding the laundry and I knew not to ask more, but not why.

Before the postcards, my mother was amusing, annoying, and doddering. Afterwards, she was what now? A holocaust survivor? But she didn't have a tattooed number. She hadn't been to Auschwitz. And what about me? Was I the son of a survivor? How could my mother, who made banana Jello and packed me and my father lunch everyday be a survivor?

I didn't understand, and I still don't, and a blog entry is too short to figure it out. But what I do know is that what my mother tried to protect me from still shaped my life, if just through that act of protection. And that I must, in the end, make sense first of her love.

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