|From Generation to Generation
The currents in the man-made lake flew swiftly by, driven by the wind. The sun shone absurdly. It was the end of the year and up north, from where they had all originated, the airports were closed due to snow.
"He said that he saw them throw children on the burning wood in the trench."
The women sat on opposing leather couches as their daughters, aged seven through ten, played computer games in the other room. She realized she was unaware of what her child was doing or looking at or whether she could overhear them, but hypnotically, she continued to listen.
"I never heard that," she said turning her attention to the speaker. "I heard that he saw children die but I never heard that he saw them burned alive."
"He told me."
"He never used to talk. Once, when my older kids and I were visiting, I asked him 'Uncle Moshe, how come they never asked you to testify at the trials after the war?' He couldn't answer me. He just choked up."
"Later, he told me snippets."
"Go on," the third woman said. She was the daughter of Americans and somehow she found herself involved in their family's stories as if they had been her own. She knew the names of their aunts and uncles and their countries of birth.
"Your father was there from the beginning. He built Auschwitz."
Her daughter wandered into the room and they fell silent. Soon, she left and sat in the solarium and began to work on a jigsaw puzzle, her graceful brown legs crossed under her, her profile so resembling her father's, turned to the side.
"He said that they had marched them outside the camp and ordered them to dig a trench. They had to haul wood and throw it into the trench and then it was lit. Trucks came with children and the children were thrown alive into the pits."
"I never heard that," she repeated as if trying to distance herself from the image.
"How did he stand it?" the other woman said.
"He said that his best friend couldn't take it and threw himself into the flames. The only thing that kept him from doing the same thing was the thought that his wife and son might still be alive."
"Auschwitz was built by the inmates," she hurried to add, as if possessing historical knowledge might somehow explain the horror of the death camp. "Her father was there from the beginning. My mother said that he built Auschwitz."
"His son's name was Wolf."
"I never knew that," she said, weakly.
"Why don't you move down here?" the third woman asked.
"That would be great," she added.
"It's possible," her cousin said. "Did you see the picture of her father? It's the last picture we took before he died."
She still wore her wedding ring. A simple, gold band. Her skeletal fingers shot forth from her small hands.
"You can always call me," she offered, rubbing her foot.
"You know, one thing I was always jealous of!"
The other two women paused, waiting to hear what she, who had always appeared so confident, had envied.
"You both have family or in-laws near you. I have no one down here. I was at someone's house the other night with my older daughter and the husband's parents were there, so loving and attentive. My former mother-in-law, well, I was in schul a few years ago, in the beginning, and someone asked me 'How are you?' and I blurted out 'How can I be? She's still breathing.'"
The other two women laughed both at the humor and the revelation.
"Your mother saved my mother's life. Without her, I wouldn't be here." She addressed the American. "My mother had given up. The violence. The sadism. The starvation. She was nineteen, an orphan. Her mom gave my mother her bread. She said 'Take it. I'm not hungry.' My mother said that her mother had been so hungry she could have 'eaten it with her eyes' but she knew that my mom was losing her spirit."
"How is your mom?"
"She tries to get off the phone within a few minutes. She says 'Here, speak to your father.' She doesn't want to upset me."
"Is any of the medication working?"
"She just started on a new one. My dad said that it helps with the agitation at night. Can you imagine? She knows that she has short term memory loss and she doesn't want to upset me."
The girls were seated before the computer in another room. The late husband of the American had used it as an office. His books lined the walls.
Not one had entered the room, seeking food, a drink, activity. They were strangely quiet.
The dog pattered over to the television and looked up. His short legs seemed incapable of carrying his body.
"He can shut off the TV. I should videotape it and send it to that TV program," she laughed, then turned to the other two women. "I don't know how people can do that to other people."
"Look at Africa."
"Look at the Middle East. There are people today that deny the Holocaust."
"My mother was forced labor. She made hand grenades. She told me the name of the camp and I thought she had gotten it wrong because I could never find it. It turned out that she was right. It was a sub camp of Gross Rosen. She was right about a lot of things."
"Does your daughter ever hear from her father?"
"At least you have good memories," she said, awkwardly, shaking her head.
"I think the three of them will be friends for a long time."
"I hope so. We have to go."
The women stood up. Their daughters surrounded them like sentries and sorting themselves out, they all made their good-byes.
"Wait, Hannah, show them your new trick.
The girl brushed her silky black hair behind her eyes, waved her spidery arms in large circles and smiling, her ivory teeth shining in her caramel colored skin, flipped backwards on a short carpet.
"She's going to the state championships."
They walked out of doors.
"You know, I think I always knew, subconsciously, that I would have to raise her by myself," she said to her cousin. She stared at her daughter. "When I knew I was expecting, I called my Dad and told him 'Dad, I'm pregnant.' He said 'That's all right. Sara was ninety.'"
"I was immediately certain that everything would be all right. I mean, I felt that if Hashem wanted me to have a healthy child, then I would have a healthy child."
She looked up. The warmth flooded her face. Soft, cushioned clouds floated overhead.
She breathed deeply. Gardenia and jasmine scents enveloped her.
She bent down and dipped her fingers in water trickling from a feebly spurting sprinkler head.
They embraced and separated.
from the February 2007 Edition of Jewish Magazine
Elaine Rosenberg Miller is an attorney living in West Palm Beach, FL. Her essays, memoirs, poems and short stories have appeared in Allgenerations, Brooklyn Voice, Jewish Magazine, Miranda Literary Magazine, Museum of Family History, The Binnacle (University of Maine at Machias), The Forward, Up The Staircase Literary Review, Wilderness House Literary Review and Women In Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal (University of Toronto), .
Copyright Judy Cohen, 2008.
All rights reserved.