Excerpts

From Sophica’s story

.…. The next day, Gitté packed some food in a separate bundle, and it was time to say goodbye. There was one quick hug, no tears, no emotions. Only Gitté kept repeating, “vet-ir tzurik kimen.” (Yiddish for ‘you will surely come back’)

More banging on the door caused a window in the front to suddenly break, and everything sounded even louder. They found themselves in the street with hundreds of confused families, all walking in the same direction. There was no other choice but to follow the crowd. After walking all the way to the Town Hall, Sophica next to Chaya, and Tonie next to Rivka, they saw Gitté running to catch up with them. They hopefully assumed that she had come to join them, but no, she had just brought a big sheet and pillows with her from home. She spread the sheet on the ground, opened Chaya’s suitcase and poured its content into the widely spread sheet. Then she put back some of the less useful clothes into the suitcase to take it back with her to the house, added two big pillows onto the sheet and made a big knot at the top. Gitté had obviously watched poor Chaya struggling with the suitcase and had found another solution. Her inspiration to add the pillows turned out to be a blessing too, as it saved their lives on the way. Now she ran back to the house, trying to think of places to hide in until the gendarmes would leave the town.

It is summer holidays and as usual during the summer I am staying at my grandmother’s house. She has only one large room, which serves both as a bedroom and a living room. Being high on Mount Carmel you don’t feel the humidity and heat here like in Kiryat Motzkin, where my parents chose to live. Here it is cool, dark and comforting, and the bed linen smells of Naftalin (anti‐moth balls), a sharp, quite unpleasant smell, that oddly enough I love too. Mama is always quiet, patient and loving. She has a tall bed which I have to climb on by pulling my knees up high. There are two huge pillows for the head, two small ones next to them, and another wide one in the middle of the bed. “The Doctor said it is good for the pains I have in my stomach”, said Mama. There are also a few more hard square ones, more like sofa cushions, which are used during the day to decorate the bed. They are printed with colourful pictures of animals, birds, and flowers, with golden and silvery glitter on top that makes them look oriental. A bit tacky, I would say when I get older, but now, oh, I adore them. And it is during these summer nights in Haifa that Mama speaks about the long walk in the heavy snow at the time of the war. She tells me how they needed to go to sleep on icy fields, and how the pillows she had carried with her from home saved their life, protecting them from freezing to death. I don’t know much about the Holocaust yet, I am a little girl, and I do not realise from the plain, loving, straightforward way she tells it, that it was so horrible. In forty years’ time, with my research into documents, photos, and memoires, I will gain a clearer idea of what had happened there. I will prefer my old childish picturesque image of the events, the one I acquire into my mind through my grandmother’s stories. While she is talking softly, I close my eyes, and I can see her and my mother and her sister Tonie, and Rivka, and Esther, all of them dreamily snuggled on pillows on a fairy fluffy white field, hugging each other to keep warm.

 

From Herman’s story 

.….There were many decks inside the Pan York. It was crowded like a tin of sardines.

.….It was a freight ship, and as such, was loaded heavily to keep it steady in stormy waters. They were told to throw any food that they had brought along with them into a big pile from fear of diseases caused by rotting food. Extra bags had to be thrown too, for the danger that extra weight might overload the ship. There was plenty of food on the ship to last them for a very long time, they were told. Herman wore the green rucksack that his mother had sewn for him, and it looked so much like a part of him that no one told him to get rid of it. Lucky, because it contained his Mama’s special honey cake, and he wouldn’t want to part from it so soon.

..…Herman and his friends preferred to stay on the upper deck. It was Friday night and Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming the Shabbat) was celebrated in the open air….. 2,596 were children under eighteen. Amongst them were many refugees and survivors of concentration camps, on the way to a new life…..

..…On December 27th, 1947, on the morning of departure, they all stood on the deck and sang Hatikvah, the new national anthem, all in Hebrew, a new and stirring language to all of them. The words and the melody were all about hope for freedom, longing for the lost land, and belief in their right to exist with heads up high, without fear or humiliation. When they finished singing they all had tears in their eyes.

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