Once, long ago, we were a family living in Poland.
There many of us, living elbow distance from one another.
Cousin Rini was a painter. Uncle Yakov was a doctor.
And one day we left….
(Apparently, it’s a scandalous chapter involving my beautiful, dramatic Great Grandmother and a steamy love affair in Jerusalem…. on a rooftop, from what I hear…. An embrace at sunset, and promises murmured, and a breathless letter home…. answered by her parents in the form of a one-way boat ticket. She was sent to America to live with her Uncle Moshe in Chicago.)
It turns out, she was lucky.
And so was her daughter, my grandmother.
By the time Aunt Mara and Uncle Shimon and their three kids were rounded up, and stuffed into a room the size of a closet deep in the bowels of the Warsaw Ghetto, my grandmother was falling in love with my grandfather.
By the time her cousins Itzi and Mendel — two boys with a smattering of cinnamon freckles across their noses — were crammed into the corner of a cattle car, stewing in the hot summer stench of humanity eking away, she was getting married in the crowded synagogue in West Rogers Park.
By the time, her mother’s mother was turned to ash in the crematorium at Auschwitz, she was welcoming her first child. My mother.
She was lucky.
So were her daughters. .
And so am I.
Almost all the pictures were destroyed of family, only the stories remain.
And then I saw this movie.
And I saw them for the first time – that shadow family that floated away into the skies above Auschwitz.
There’s a woman who looks likes my mother. She walk just like my mother did with her head held high, and her stride purposeful and intent.
There’s a woman who looks like me. She covers her mouth when she smiles.
And there’s a girl who looks like my daughter, the same eyes sloping down at the corners, hidden in the folds of her cheeks when she smiles.
And now, 70 years after Auschwitz was liberated, I will show this video to my little girl, my little girl who asks about the family before Gramma Maida, before Gramma Golda before we came to America… the family that I can’t share with her because their records were burned along with their bodies.
And while she’s too young to understand what happened to the man selling newspapers, and the little boy with her brother’s smile, or the little girl with the ribbon who looks just like her, this will be the beginning of a story that ends with a promise: “never again.”