My mother passed away four years ago shortly after her 92nd birthday.
Aged 19, she was deported to Auschwitz from the Viseul de Sus, Romania ghetto on Shavuoth, 1944.
She never told me the exact date. Perhaps she didn’t know.
My mother was a person of few words.
When it came to speaking about the 3 months she spent in Auschwitz and the 9 months she was in a forced labor camp, she had even fewer words.
She wanted my sister and I to have ordinary American lives. So, we took ballet and piano lessons. I joined the Girl Scouts.
She refrained from filling our bubbling imaginations with stories of what she had witnessed.
I also learned, from a very young age, to protect her.
When I was an adult, I volunteered to be an interviewer with the Shoah Foundation. We attended a three day training seminar and we off.
I like to place my interviewees in life-affirming settings. I sat a German born rabbi in front of a torah curtain. I placed a French survivor in front of her valuable oil paintings.
It was my “Am Yisroel” moment.
But my own mother’s story remained unrecorded.
I counseled her against it.
There were hints that after the war, my mother suffered some sort of physical collapse. Newly married and pregnant, a doctor told her that he had a “heart problem”. She took to her bed, waiting to die. She was 23
My father took her from doctor to doctor and she recovered.
He never let her talk about the Holocaust.
He would change the subject if we asked too many questions. If a documentary about wartime matters came on television, he sent her from the room.
Over the years, she told us a few things. She said that after they arrived in Auschwitz, her father gathered her and her sister and said, in Yiddish “Come, let us say farewell”.
I learned that her head was shaved. She was given a shapeless dress of a rough material. I know she screamed “Charna! Charna! Where are you?”
Her sister, standing beside her, said “Quiet! I am right next to you.”
I was told that she looked in the distance and saw a cart heavily laden with white forms. “Look,” she said. “Pigs.
“Those are not pigs,” her sister said. “Those are people.”
As our lives progressed, I thought my mother had left all the horrors behind.
I was wrong.
In the last year of her life she broke her elbow and underwent surgery. When she came out of the anesthesia she started shouting “Charna! Charna! Hobst brodt?”
It was 70 years after she was liberated.
She had had a wonderful life, a happy marriage, loving children, grandchildren.
But she was right back in Auschwitz, asking her fellow inmate sister if she had any bread.