There are certain people in our lives who are blessings; sometimes they are in our lives for our lifetime, sometimes not. And sometimes the effect they have had on our lives lasts a lifetime although the time spent together was way too brief. This is being written in honor of one of those people and her grandchildren (two of whom I do not know), who she would have cherished and taught with an exuberance unexpected from someone who had suffered as she had.
Lola Jasny, of blessed memory, was someone who you wanted to hold tight. I really only knew her from 1978 until her death in 1982. Her eldest son, Max, was my “boyfriend” (both thirty in 1978), became my husband and then my ex-husband but always a friend. I think of his wife and two lovely daughters as family and am happy to play Auntie Mame (minus the martinis) to them when they visit Israel with Birthright in a few years. I adored Lola and her husband Sam, of blessed memory, who recently died. When I think back about who I was then as a person, I know that I learned more about life from Lola and Sam in that short time than from anyone else prior or since.
Some of what I learned about her, I learned after her death. What I learned from her was quite extraordinary. Her outlook and her ability to love and feel joy was not limited by a realistic view of what she had suffered. I remember once sitting at the kitchen table with Lola and one of her friends. They were talking about Glivetz, a sub camp of Auschwitz which was primarily a labor camp. They worked with soot and bricks, hard labor with little nutrition and in a constant state of dehydration. I also remember Lola and her friend breaking from the conversation to begin singing the Partisan Song with gusto. This hopefulness about a time of hopelessness is what survival is about. There were many experiences Lola had during the war and her sons are the wonderful guardians of her and her husband Sam’s legacy. But this stuck in my mind and not long after Lola died, I learned more about the women of Glivetz.
I could write thousands of words about her, but those words belong to her family. In my mind, I see a photo of her husband Sam holding baby Max on a ship going from Europe to the United States in 1949 and I can imagine her smile as she watched them while the three of them traveled from the hell that had become Europe. There is a photo of her from the war years; she has a star sewn on to her clothing. She is smiling in the photo, the same smile that years later so enchanted me.
Lola died in 1982 on a trip to Europe which would have brought her in contact with family not seen since liberation. It was devastating for her husband and sons. It was too soon as she had so much to live for, including four grandchildren who would have brought her so much joy as she watched them grow, like the joy she received from her sons.
Just a year or so after Lola died, Sam asked me to attend the first American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Washington. I have written a bit about it before and will write more as time goes on before my aging memory fades and the notes are not enough to kick it into gear.
It was a road trip…Sam driving a big car, talking the whole way from the Bronx to Washington, mainly about the people we would be staying with who were long time friends he had known since liberation. But also about his time on the camps.
The conference was overwhelming and there is so much to tell, but for me this Yom HaShoa is about Lola and the girls who were in Glivetz with her. Sam told me that the “girls”, mainly in their early sixties in 1983 and some a little younger, would be meeting up in the convention center and that I was welcome to join them. When I arrived at the meeting place, the women were passing around photos that they had somehow taken in the camp and held for all those years. They told stories about stealing food from the Germans, finding ways to stay clean and hydrated; this was a sisterhood created by compassion and loyalty to each other.
And here is the part of the story that will live with me forever. They began to talk about the boy, the young boy who landed in the camp and had no one. His family had no doubt been killed and he had nothing. He was a child who would not live long in these circumstances. But the girls of Glivetz would not let him die. They hid him from the guards. They broke off tiny pieces of bread for him, kept drops of water and of the “soup” they were fed and they gave him raggedy pieces of clothing to stay warm. And they nurtured him. As they were talking about the boy, a tall, blond man in his late forties walks up to them and starts crying. Soon everyone is crying. He is the boy. And he was alive because the girls of Glivetz refused to lose humanity in a time of cruelty and death. He was told that I was Lola’s daughter in law and that she had died a year earlier. We hugged although I felt like an impostor for taking that hug and wished that the hug could have been given to Lola or to her sons.
There must have been thousands of such acts, similar to the girls of Glivetz saving one little life at the risk of their own. And many are lost to history save for those handed down among families or recorded in archives.
Lola and the girls of Glivetz were not superheroes. They were surviving the horrors of the time with compassion intact and understood that however their lives turned out, they had done what was moral and good in a time of evil.
As I spend my first Yom HaShoa in Jerusalem, I will not only have images of horror flash through my mind, but images of a man crying with a group of women in a cold convention center and of Lola and her friend, sitting at a kitchen table in the Bronx, singing the Partisan Song with smiles on their faces. That is what survival is really about. That and the generation who exist because she survived.