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Survive or alive?

Who wants to be the only one in the family, the only one in the village, to live on without anyone to share memories with?

Very early in my life I already knew that my mother was a sad person.

When the war started in 1939 my parents were already married and had a one-year old baby, my oldest sister. When the Germans invaded Poland, their families tried to convince my mother that my father should run away, of course, but that she and her baby should stay. That only men were in danger from the Germans. And that it was irresponsible to go on the roads with a baby!

But my mother insisted and my parents with their baby ran east from Krakow, towards the Russians. From there they were sent to a labor camp in Siberia.

Until 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, my parents corresponded with their families that had stayed under the Germans. The families even sent them food packages.

And suddenly, there was silence.

Over the following years they heard rumors that Jews were being murdered by the Germans. Official Russian newspapers and radio said so. But who believed the official news in Stalin’s Russia? Surely it was communist propaganda…

They succeeded in returning to Poland only in 1946, one year after the war. And it was only then that they discovered the truth. Many in my father’s family were murdered. And of my mother’s large family – parents, 7 siblings (4 of them married and with little children), many aunts, uncles, cousins – the only survivors were an aunt in America, an uncle in Israel and a cousin who had also been in Siberia. All the others – murdered. She never even found out when or where…

And then came the troubling thoughts – why me? Why did I survive and all the others died? My sister was a much better person, she is the one who should have survived…

And who wants to live alone? Who wants to be the only survivor… the only one in the family… the only one in the village…? Who wants to live on, alone, an orphan without any relatives, without any support, without anyone to share memories with?

Yes, my mother had a husband and a baby. Later she had two more children – my second sister and me. But do you ever stop feeling like an orphan? Do you ever stop feeling lost, alone in a hostile world, without your family, without your base that can give you support and confidence and a feeling of belonging?

Years ago I heard an interesting explanation about Noah.

Soon after the rains stopped and Noah left the ark, he planted grapes, made wine and got drunk.

Why? The realization that he and his family were the last survivors in the world was just too painful…

How many survivors spent the rest of their lives forcing themselves to live? How many spent the rest of their lives forcing themselves to have children and to raise them, forcing themselves to be happy in order to transmit happiness to their families… but not quite succeeding…?


About the Author
David Wolf writes about his experience of being a second-time husband and father. He has a daughter from his first marriage, and, with his second wife, has accrued three daughters, two sons-in-law, one grandchild and twin 8-year-old sons. He is a social worker in a mental health department and in private practice in Raanana.
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