My mother survived Auschwitz and a Krupp slave labor camp. She married my father three years after the war. They had good lives filled with family and friends and resided in Williamsburg, Borough Park, Teaneck, NJ and then West Palm Beach, FL. In her late 80’s she began to exhibit symptoms of vascular dementia. About four years before her death, she fell, broke her elbow and had to undergo surgery. I was with her as she regained consciousness. The doctor and nurses stood alongside her bed.
Suddenly, her eyes flew open and she cried “Dvora, Dvora, host broyt?”
I was stunned and sputtered to the attendants “She thinks she’s back in the concentration camp and she’s asking her sister if she has bread.”
When I heard her say it, I was doubly shocked. One, that she so vividly recalled her state of mind in 1944, 70 years earlier and second, that she had called “Dvora” and not Charna, the sister with whom she and their parents (killed upon arrival) had been deported. Dvora and a third sister, Frida had been in Bucharest at the time and were rounded up a few weeks later. They were never in the same barrack as my mother.
Then I remembered.
Frida and Dvora had worked in an area where the victims’ possessions were sorted. Sometimes they would find food which they somehow got to my mother and Charna.
My mother’s disability had revealed that the trauma of Auschwitz had never left her. She had valiantly and successfully repressed it. She had tremendous courage, this insightful, modest, kind, private woman.
She had overwhelming faith as well.
All heartache, self-doubt and fears were settled by her peaceful belief in Hashem.
For my, mother and many survivors like her, her presence was an affirmation that when someone who has survived the Holocaust retains not only his faith but joy in his faith, it is a sign that tzaddikim live among us.