What I remember most vividly from my childhood years after the war in Poland is how my mother always watched the door, always hopeful, never giving up that a loved one would enter, come back from the dead. Later, when I grasped the magnetite of the crimes Europe’s Jews were made to suffer, I questioned why my parents thought it was essential to stay in Poland. For my parents, it was important to restore their roots in the place where their ancestors had lived for centuries. They needed to be among the ghosts of their murdered family, to keep their memory alive and insure they did not perish in vein. In the words of Elie Wiesel, “to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
In the Holocaust aftermath my parents were haunted by memories and were overrode by survivals’ guilt as they grieved their murdered families. My mother found courage and strength among the ashes of her dead family; she brought them back to life, daily. My mother could not stay silent, she constantly shared her stories with a small child who could not begin to grasp what her mother had endured. To cope, my father retreated behind a wall of silence.
My father, Abram Ejbuszyc was silent about his past. He never uttered a word about what happened to him during the war or about what his life had been like before the war. From my mother’s stories I know his only wish was to stay alive in order to come back home to Poland. He made it back only to find his entire family had been murdered. He was the sole survivor. This knowledge pushed him into a dark despair from which he never recovered. He became silent.
After the war, my father returned to Łódź to find that his large family was decimated. He never learned the details: that his father, Icek Dawid Ejbuszyc, his mother, Ita Mariem Grinszpanholc, and his older sister, Sura Blima, were deported from the Łódź Ghetto to Auschwitz in Sep-tember of 1942. A hospital record shows that his younger sister Dwojra died of Unterernährung, of malnutrition, in June of 1942. She was thirty years old. I was able to uncover this information about my father’s family in recent years. When those records became available through documentation centers, however, this information was not accessible in the first few decades after the war when my father was still alive.
Studies have shown that there are two kinds of parents among survivors—those who cannot connect and those who cannot separate from their children. My mother could not separate herself from her two daughters. It was as if she was afraid she would lose us at any moment. To live, my father had forsaken his family and consciously or unconsciously chose to suffer the consequences alone. He was tormented by survivor’s guilt; the terror was visible, inscribed on his stern face and in his sad eyes. The shock of finding out about the Holocaust and not knowing how his loved ones died resulted in nightmares, anxieties, and depression. My father detached himself from us, as if afraid to make a close connection and lose his loved ones all over again. By not talking, he contained the trauma he lived with, hoping not to pass it on to his children. He became a stranger to the new family he created after the war and we were deprived of a loving father.
Today, we know that post-traumatic stress disorder and the symptoms associated with it are real. Not only survivors but also the next generation experience them. Today psychological support is available, but in the late 1960s, 70 and even later no studies or support systems concerned themselves with Holocaust survivors and their families. Survivors and the next generation were left to deal with emotional difficulties on their own terms. After the war, survivors were simply told to forget about what had happened to them during the war and about the life they had before the war. They were told to start a new life as if their prior life had never existed. For those survivors whose entire families perished in the Holocaust the psychological distresses had no outlet. They hid behind a wall of silence; the trauma of what happened weighing heavily down on their psychic. The emotional impact of the war on survivors and their children went on without being understood for decades.
To stay alive, my parents kept going east into the unknown on trains crammed with other refugees. They found themselves deep in Stalinist Russia, far from home and family, full of remorse and regret. But it was a decision that saved their life. Both my parents ended up in Bialystok at the end of 1939. The Russian Government forced the refugees for mandatory work inside of Russia. This decree saved more lives. They signed up for a one year mandatory work inside of Russia, they were going deep into the Russians interiors to help build the country. For the next two years my mother worked in a factory in Saratov. Here she became close to a Polish Jewish refugee from Lodz, my father. Abram Ejbuszyc worked for an armament factory and lived in the barracks. The first time my mother saw him was on that train from Bialystok.
As the war moved closer to them, my parents joined the Polish army and fled to Central Asia in February of 1942. They survived four years of starvation, heat, malaria, places like Guzar, Kamuszyn, Gitap and Karsi. In Guzar my father was a recruit, his head shaved and he wore a uniform. He and others soon were dismissed from the army the reasons were many. In Guzar, my father found work as a mechanic at the train station. They could hardly sustain themselves on the allocated food rations. My parents lasted here six months, trying to survive. The next four years they looked for work and food in places like Gitap, Kamuszyn, Karsi was their last stop.
It was almost one year after the war had ended when the Russian government allowed the Polish Jewish refugees to return home. They were forced to settle in forty two towns, cities in the southwestern part of Poland, the Lower Silesia. By then the communist government was firmly established in Poland.
I never really got to know my father. He died after the war when I was 10-years-old. Most of the stories about him and his family are what my mother told me. They were together throughout the six years of war. While in exile in frozen Russia, my father had been often sick with pneumonia. Overworked, undernourished, and never treated, more than ten years later, he was diagnosed with incurable tuberculosis. The illness was by then in advanced stages and he was considered contagious. The last time I saw my father alive was in December, 1961. He was critically ill. We were waiting for an ambulance to be dispatched to take him to a special hospital in Klodzko, two hours away by train from where we lived. The ambulance came for my father after a one-week delay.
My mother refused to leave Poland without my father, however, twenty years after the war, Jews were targeted again in an anti-Semitic campaign, sponsored by the communist government. In the years, 1968-1969 Polish Jews were expelled from Poland. We left in 1966, after having lost so much, my mother was once again losing everything—including her identity. She was abandoning her husband’s grave and the promise she gave to him before he died. She promised she would fight to regain the properties he inherited from his parents. The day we left Poland my mother was hysterical, when my sister and I tried to console her as the train was leaving, she did not hear us, and it was only later in my life that I understood how my mother felt back then.