After a whole year, finally I could pay a visit to my Grandmother. She lives up in the mountains, so it took me some time to get there. However, while sitting on the bus, marveling at the beautiful wintry, snow-covered landscape, going deeper and deeper into that old, isolated, rural world, I found myself slipping back in time. Leaving the city’s constant murmur and lights behind, slowly slithering away from the matrix of electricity and technology, I could reconnect with nature and with that indescribable, inherent sense of human condition; that pure existence. It is so simple; the winter nights are so dark and endless. There is that silence when it snows…
Anyway, after arriving and having a huge lunch (and consequently a big nap after eating), my Granny and I began to chat away, going through old photographs. We found a photo of my late grandfather’s parents. I can’t remember even seeing them, knowing their faces. However, there is a beautiful and striking story that I keep in my mind about them. It was my grandfather who told me this story in 2010 when I took a gap year and decided to travel and spend some time with my loved ones. (I am so grateful for having done that…and of course for having the chance to do that.)
During the summer of 2010 I had the best conversations of my life so far. I am so fortunate that I can say I asked all the questions I wanted to ask from that generation who are no longer with us. Including my grandfather. I asked him a lot about the famous revolution of 1956…how he and his troop dealt with the traumas. However, I never asked him about the World War since he was a child back then, but I asked him about the beautiful Hanukkah menorah standing in the window..how on earth we have one?!
He told me that when he was a child his parents had been working in Germany. They were away for a good few years, not knowing when they would be able to return. That was the only way of keeping the family going financially. How heartbreaking it must have been for my great-grandma to leave her child behind…Can’t even think of it. She entrusted my grandfather to her Jewish neighbors who were raising him up during those years. However, my great-grandma sewed a fabric ‘necklace’ or a tag that my grandfather could wear and could not take off. The little tag contained his name, date of birth and his parents’ names. Just in case, if anything happens. And something did happen. The Second World War broke out. My great-grandparents stuck in Germany, my grandfather living under the wings of a Jewish mother in Hungary, raising him along with her two daughters as if he was her own.
My grandfather had always been a strong man. I cannot remember having seen him crying at all. He lived through wars, witnessed how his family lost everything from one day to another, how foreign nations occupied his country…but when he began to tell me about the day when the nazis came to take them, he broke down in tears. He told me that he also had to wear the yellow star for some time, and nobody thought in the beginning that it would go any further than being ‘marked’. They lived in a small village that had never been really disturbed by the storms of history ever. But the nazis did come and caused major disturbance. He said they arrived on a huge van and forced the Jewish family in the back of the car. When the mother asked one of the soldiers to give her some time to pack some of their belongings up, she was laughed at the face, then got beaten up. They had to leave as they were..my grandfather was already jostled in with them in the back of the truck when his stepmother cried out that at least let him go since he is not even Jewish, making references to my grandfather’s ‘necklace’. They checked his tag if she was saying the truth and made some quick investigation with the mayor of the village. So the nazis let him go, then they left straight, taking away the family. He never saw them or heard from them ever again.
My grandfather found himself standing alone in the yard of the Jewish family’s house, having nowhere to go. Within a few hours’ time, ‘vultures’ appeared and sacked the house. One of these vultures felt an enormous pity when found my grandfather crying hysterically so he gave him the menorah to calm him down and also a job. Since he had nobody, and nobody was sure if his parents would ever return from Germany. He was only 5 years old when he started working on the fields.
Fortunately, withing a few months’ time his parents returned. Which was quite a miracle..I have no idea how they were able to get back, but they did return and reunite.
I always feel so moved by that story, and when thinking about it, I always send my gratitude to that Jewish mother who saved my grandfather, wherever she may be. I don’t know her name, I don’t know her face, yet she plays such in important role in my life. So does my great-grandmother. Looking at her face..now that I found this photograph, I also send my gratitude to her. It is a strange feeling to see her figure appearing in this old piece of paper, knowing that we are deeply connected, sharing the same genes, only a few decades separate us….yet I could never touch her, I could never see her dry, papery like hands, but she is a part of my life and she is a part of ‘me’. I am made of her. Yet, she is so far and so close.
‘I am the sum total of my ancestors, I carry their DNA. We are the representatives of a long line of people and we carried them around either with. This long line of people that goes back to the beginning of time. And when we meet – they meet other lines of people, and we say bring together the lines of me.’