Not every child of Holocaust Survivors wants to be a Nazi hunter. But I did. I imagined scenarios in which I searched for Nazi’s who escaped allied capture, and when I found them, which I always did, they were brought to justice where they had to admit to their crimes. I did not know anything then about the help they received from Nazi sympathizers and governments that believed fascists were better than communists.
Yet maybe it is precisely the nice Jewish girls who have these dreams. Perhaps the collective unconscious of our ancestors has been haunting us, motivating us to seek justice. So, although neither of my parents spoke much about their own parents except to tell me how each one of them died, I have taken it upon myself to uncover their life stories.
It was only a few years prior to my father’s passing that he began talking more specifically about his mother, and that is due to my constant prodding. Between his faded memories and information discovered through years of meticulous research, I have been able to piece together portions of the lives of my father’s beloved family.
My father’s mother Gitla was killed along with her mother Golda in the gas chamber known as Treblinka. I was told that she had dark hair like me, was petite and gentle. My grandmother was very intelligent, and unlike many, she could read and write. She often helped my father with his homework, and he cherished those quiet times with his mother.
Though my grandmother was a great cook according to my father, it was my great-grandmother Golda, who lived with my father and his parents, who did all of the food preparation. Fridays were codfish and herring, chicken or meat, and other traditional Polish dishes. Shabbat candles were lit, prayers recited, and on Saturday the Rabbi would come to my grandparents’ home for leftovers, while my father would have to recite what he had learned at Cheder that week.
These are just some of the loving memories my father shared. I wish I knew more. It is difficult to trace the genealogy of women, particularly if they married and adopted their husband’s last names, which of course every married woman in my grandmother’s generation did. The most useful information comes from death certificates since those contain “maiden” names. However, gathering enough information to be able to make a legitimate request for a death certificate takes many years. Skill and luck are both necessary for a successful search. Of course, in the case of my father’s mother – as with all of the victims killed by the Nazi’s – no death certificates were issued. No individual graves were dug either.