Sunday, November 07, 2004

Well, I'm going to have to disappoint the 7 people who took the quiz- I don't have time to post the correct answers right now- I have to leave for the airport pretty soon, and this time you can be sure I'll be at Logan well before 90 minutes before the flight! Yes, indeedy!

The reason I have no time is that I got caught up in a visit to my grandmother, who lives in a nursing home outside of Boston. No offense to the quiz-takers, but spending time with my Omi is more important! She's really upset that my parents are leaving for Cleveland- she won't get visitors nearly as often now. I feel really bad.

My grandmother loves telling the story about how she was saved by the spirit of her mother from Treblinka. My grandmother was born in 1917, and HER mother died from liver cancer just 2 1/2 years later. My Omi was raised by her father and 6 older brothers and sisters in the Polish village of Opatuf. Omi tells me all the time how people from the village would knock on her door at all hours asking for blessings from her father, who was a chassidic rabbi (not the head of any sect, but he must have been very learned and respected). Every morning he would come back from morning prayers with a roll for my grandmother's breakfast, and he'd bring her a basin to wash her hands. To this day she remembers sitting in bed, putting her little fists over the basin and her father pouring water over each hand three times, and all the words to "Modeh Ani."

Years later, she was living with her uncle, and a notice went out that all the people in the village would be transported elsewhere to do work, I guess for the war. My grandmother thought this was strange; how could the old people and little children do any work? Why would they take EVERYONE? She had a feeling something was up. She went to her mother's grave and cried and asked her mother to please send her an answer of what to do. On her way home, she ran into someone else from the village, who asked her why she was crying. "I was at my mother's grave seeking an answer of what to do - whether I should go with the transport." The man told her that in a few days there was going to be a different transport just for the young people, to a labor camp elsewhere in Poland.

My grandmother took this as a sign. A transport just for young people sounded promising; surely the Germans and Poles would be more likely to save those who were strong enough to work. So she went to her uncle's house and told him of her plan. Her uncle would hear nothing of it. "Our family cannot be separated," he said. "Where we go, you go." Still, Omi packed a backpack with food and clothes, to be ready to leave. She remembers one of her little nephews begging his mother to make him a backpack, too, which she did, and the child was so proud to have a backpack of his own . . . I don't think my grandmother remembers the names of her many nieces and nephews . . . I hope whoever that cousin of my mother's was, he died quickly.

The day of the young-person's transport, my grandmother found that her uncle had locked her out of the house, so she wouldn't have access to her backpack. She saw the pack lying inside the house, next to a window. So, she broke the window, grabbed her backpack, and went to the Jewish Community Center to meet the transport. There, she saw an open wagon full of the other teenagers and twenty-somethings from Opatuf, and an SS officer. She told the officer she wanted to come with this transport, and he hoisted her up into the wagon.

My grandmother spent a few years in a factory, doing slave labor for the Germans. She met my grandfather there; his first wife and son had been killed. They used to fantasize about what they would do when the war ended and they got out. All my grandmother wanted was ana stove oven of her own so she could bake some potatoes. All day she dreamed about potatoes.

When my grandparents were liberated, Omi went back to Opatuf, and found that everyone in the village had been taken to Treblinka and gassed. Out of all her siblings, step-siblings, nieces, nephews, only one brother survived- she found him a couple years later.

I asked Omi today why no one else thought it was strange that the whole village was being taken to "work." Why didn't they think anything of it, when she did?

"They didn't know for sure what would happen," she said. "But they certainly didn't think they were going to their deaths." Besides, where else could they go, but where the Germans told them? It was too late to leave, too late to fight. I suppose they didn't allow themselves to believe they might be killed, because at that point they didn't have many options. Besides, hindsight is 20/20.

Omi says that other survivors sometimes made fun of her for continuing to believe in God. Indeed, my grandmother has had a hard life even besides the Holocaust: her mother dying, poverty, my grandfather's death in the 60's, lots of illnesses and surgeries . . . but she's told me many times "It's not that I suffered those things because there is no God. It's because of God that I survived. My mother watched over me and protected me."

And that's how my great-grandmother saved my Omi from Treblinka.

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