mardi, avril 10, 2012

My Holocaust relatives

As I try to put the house together after our renovation, I've been going through boxes.

Many of them are from my parent's house. For years, they sat in a trailer outside, waiting for us to decide: buy or renovate?

I love geneaology, although I have to say that trying to figure out who is a second or third cousin, and who is twice removed, almost inevitably prompts head-scratching.

When that occurs, I turn to my smarter relatives -- second cousins twice-removed.

Opening one box, I pulled out an old photo album.  I recalled having seen this before, but I didn't remember what was in it.

I wasn't ready for the first photos I saw.

A man dressed in a long coat, his wife  in the respectable middle-class fashion of the times (perhaps the 1920s), her head adorned with a huge hat, stand in a square, perhaps in a park.   In between them, nestled comfortably, smiling at the camera, is their lovely daughter -- is she in her teens? Her twenties? I can't tell.

On the back of the photo, in neat, decisive, final words, is written, probably by my grandmother: Max and Irma and Julia.  Killed in the Holocaust.

I imagine them in a prosperous apartment, somewhere in a large German city -- Berlin?

Another photo shows a younger Uncle Max and identifies him as "Grandma's brother." I'm not even sure if they are the same person.

I imagine Max and Irma and Julia at home, surrounded by ponderous Victorian antiques, or strolling through the Berlin streets. And then the picture grows dark.



Because my mother's family came to America in the 1880's, and my father's family in the early 1900's, we didn't have a lot of close relatives killed by the Nazis.

Yet for my grandmother, and for her mother and her mother's generation, the grief must have been deep -- a wound that never quite healed.

My grandmother was very active in helping Jews get visas before the Holocaust -- yet somehow these relatives end up staying, and dying, in Germany.

There aren't too many people left who may know why.

But now that I have seen their faces, I would like to know who they were.

We have a pretty good idea of how they died.

I'd like to learn something about how they lived.

Max, Irma and Julia.

Across the decades,  a relative sitting in a quiet Philadelphia exurb remembers you. And hopes that you have finally found peace.

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