Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7
Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14

My Mother's Journey
Through the Fire

As Told to
Louis Brandsdorfer,
June 17,1987

I write this on the day of the funeral of my stepfather Maylech Spiegel. He was 85 years old when he died. He married my mother 14 years ago, a few years after my father died. Maylech, like my parents, was a survivor and his death was another reminder of how time was running out for the witnesses of the Holocaust.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. The community I lived in was populated with Holocaust survivors. Whenever they got together they would talk about the war. There seemed a need for many of the survivors to tell their stories, but the uniqueness of their experience did not dawn on me until I grew up and left New York. Outside of the city I found a very limited knowledge of the Holocaust.

In 1970 my father died. With him died the details of his personal experience in the war. As much as he told me I could not reconstruct in detail his story. I decided not to let my mother's story be lost too.

Over a period of time, I sat with my mother, recorded her stories of the war and organized this book. I also read everything I could find on the war and the Holocaust. I also found other children of survivors doing the same things, and for the same reasons.

My family, like the families of other survivors, was small. But it had once been large. Had it not been for the war I might have known 2 sets of grandparents, over a dozen sets of aunts and uncles, and countless cousins. Of my mother's family only she and one sister survived the war. On my father's side only my father and 2 of his brothers.

In getting my mother to talk about the war I asked her a lot of questions about her childhood and about her family. The more she talked about her home the more she remembered about her parents, brothers and sisters. And in her talking about them I felt I got to know them a least for a little while.

So this book took on a second purpose. It became a way of remembering those that did not survive. A way of keeping their memories alive. It was what the victims wanted. It was the same thing the survivors themselves wanted. It was one of the reason they told their stories so often.

Elie Wiesel said in explaining his passion to remember the Holocaust, "I feel that, having survived, I owe something to the dead. That was their obsession, to be remembered. Anyone who does not remember betrays them again."

I was also taken with a quote from Joseph Gottfarstein's book, "Judaism" that I found in Azriel Eisenberg's book, "Witness to the Holocaust." The quote was from the last Musar talk Rabbi Nahum Yanchiker, the Headmaster of the Slabodka Musar-Yeshiva near Kovno Lithuania, gave his students. Musar means an exercise in moral discipline.

As the Rabbi spoke the door of the Yeshiva was opened and someone yelled, "The Germans are coming."

The Rabbi stood up and told his students to flee and save themselves. He warned them about the dangers ahead and told them to always remember their people and their Yeshiva. His last words to his students were these,

"And do as our holy Sages had done -- pour forth your words and cast them into letters. This will be the greatest retribution which you can wreak upon these wicked ones. Despite the raging wrath of our foes the holy souls of your brothers and sisters will remain alive. These evil ones schemed to blot out their names from the face of the earth; but a man can not destroy letters. For words have wings; they mount up to the heavenly heights and they endure for eternity."

Louis Brandsdorfer

And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, Saith the lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third part shall be left therein.
And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: I will say, it is my people: and they shall say, the Lord is my God. Zechariah 13:8,9



© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.