Earlier this year I saw on Facebook that Na’amat, the Israeli women’s organization, affiliated with the workers’ union (Histadrout), is taking a group of women to Poland. That trip, entitled: “ Unknown Sister” will focus on the forgotten heroines of the Holocaust.
I signed up immediately, going on such a journey with other women feels like a an easier, perhaps more accessible, introduction to that chapter in the history of my family and my people, which until now I tried not to think about.
I should have gone to Poland years ago, my father’s family came from there. They moved from Tarnów to to Berlin in the beginning of the 20th century. My father left Berlin for Palestine in 1934, he was only 21 years old and his parents and one brother were killed by the Nazis. Another brother survived the war but remained permanently scarred.
But instead of Poland I was several times in Berlin. In 2000, my daughter moved there to study music. When she got the information about student housing she showed it to my father. He recognized one of the locations. It was the same address as his old school — Adas Israel. Obviously the school was no longer there. Instead there were ugly modern buildings and a memorial statue indicating that this was the site of the Jewish School.
Around the same time, in Israel, my father moved into a sheltered living. As we were packing his belongings we came across a pile of old letters from his family back in Berlin. The letters dated from 1934, when my father left, till 1939, when the family was forced out of Berlin. We knew about those letters but my father didn’t talk about them and I don’t remember him ever looking at the letters. .
We decided to loan the documents to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. There isn’t that much information about domestic Jewish life in Berlin at that time and the museum was interested in them. The letters were transcribed (since my grandmother wrote in Gothic letters), typed out, and then translated into English (since I don’t know German).
Nothing dramatic was described in the letters, but they expressed fear and despair. My grandparents hoped that my father, their oldest son, would be able to help. They urged him to write more and reproached him for not doing so. One brother thanked him for the books he got from Palestine, and the other brother was happy with the new suit that my father had sent. They all appreciated all that my father had done, and apologized for always asking for more, they were proud people.
I read the letters only once, and couldn’t look at them again.
I know that I shall never be ready to face my past, still yesterday on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day the group of Na’amat women met for the first time. I wasn’t the only one who dreaded the emotional toll of the pilgrimage. But as I believe in the power of sisterhood, I have high hopes. Women have the ability to form quick bonds and to support each other. Those special qualities will be needed in our trip to Poland next month.