portraits

NewYork Day 2

In On the Road in NY on June 17, 2010 at 10:57 am

Good morning Manhattan. Have been waking up at 5am everyday since we got here. It is sunrise and although I would prefer to be sleeping there is something quite extraordinary about those early hours especially in Manhattan. Today we will be visiting survivors in Manhattan from the Upper east side to down town – we will be going door to door, doorman to no doorman and the sun is shining today.

 

More later today …

A day in Manhattan has got to be interesting. We saw 6 survivors today, each with a different story, smile, energy, space, political view and outlook on life. We walk into each person’s home, their cultivated mise en scene and immediately we have entered into their life. It’s a very intimate project, the more we do this the more I realise  how personal this all is and how vulnerable in a sense each person is and how much trust they put in us.

We began the day uptown at 75 yer old Henry. Somehow through my mother in law Marsha, Henry heard about our project. Henry’s apartment is beautiful with a wonderful view of uptown Manhattan. We met his second wife too and it was very emotional watching her watching him share parts of story and insights on life with us. She is Polish, not Jewish, and you can see her admiration for him. She said that although she heard these stories so many times, hearing and watching Henry tell us moved her so much. Henry said not having his siblings survive the war with him was the hardest part for him, ‘really, I missed them very much’. He survived with his mother and always felt a constant responsibility to take care of her, this weighed very heavily on him. Henry is very hopeful for the future of humanity. He believes one day all the hatred among people will disappear.  When I left Henry and his wife they both cried – not because I was leaving, but because of what he has shared and what has happened – it was a very moving moment for me.

Our next stop in the bustling streets of Manhattan took a little longer to get to and luckily, thanks to my friend Yael where I am staying, we were able to park in her building. Yael was the saviour of our day because driving around Manhattan is challenge enough even with GPS, parking on the other hand is a rather anxious inducing adventure. when parking in the car park however, we did discover a lovely scratch on our rental car – this knowledge unfortunately haunted Harry for the remainder of the day.

Next stop – the lovely Lilly. 80 year old Belgian born Lilly was hidden as a child in Belgium in a convent as well as in a farm near Waterloo starting at the age of 12. Recently Lilly returned to Belgium with her daughter where her brother still lives. Lilly made us lunch and really took care of us – she reminded me of my nana and my great aunt Ida in the way she prepared the food and set the table effortlessly but with such grace. Lilly’s smile lights up her whole face. I loved being around her and felt very comfortable with her. She asked us if she could take us for dinner  but unfortunately our schedule is too busy and runs late each night. I hope to see her again one day, as does Harry.

Carless and free we took a cab further uptown to hidden child Julian. Whatever people say about New York cabbies being brash can of course be true (later in the day we had a 71 yr old cabbie who had been cabbying for 50 years in NY – what a character!)  but this particular cabbie was so concerned for our welfare that after we paid he saw we were looking for our destination and made us get back in the car so he could drive us to the actual building. now that’s service.

Our next stop was further uptown near Columbia University. There’s a different vibe further up town and you can definitely feel the presence of a student community with bohemian cafes and the sense that some intellectual conversations are going on. We met with another Belgian hidden child, 71 year old Ava. Ava is an artist so her home was full paints, paint brushes, canvases and artwork. I especially liked Ava’s apartment – high ceilings, old and very NY. When Ava wrote to me to be part of the project she said she especially wanted to participate because she doesn’t have children so this would be a way of documenting her story. I loved talking with Ava – she was very candid, very honest and very emotional. Ava is on a mission to find out more about her childhood and past. I asked her if this brings her solace – she said no, rather it reminds her of how much she has lost. But she is still compelled to keep searching.

Now for a change of pace. We took three subways and a cab to meet with 67 year old Dutch hidden child Joseph downtown in the east village. Across the road was an organic market so I already felt like we were in a ‘familiar’ neighbourhood. Joe is certainly an evolved person. We talked at length about life and I really felt a connection with Joe – a kindred spirit on this very complicated planet. From Obama to therapy to Israeli politics – we talked and I learned. When I asked Joe what he would say to a child survivor of genocide if he met him today – he said first of all he would hug him. For me this says everything.

Our final stop for the day was to visit John – a 75 year old survivor from Slovakia who spent the final year of war hidden with his parents in his school teacher’s apartment. John and his parents became Christians to survive the war and it is only recently, in the 90s that he decided to reclaim his Jewish identity. Though he married a Jewish woman over 40 years ago he would still introduce himself as a christian, fill in forms and tick ‘christian’. He had his bar mitzvah at 72 years old, learnt his parsha and is now learning hebrew. In a few months he will be travelling to a family reunion in Slovakia. John lectures regularly to school kids about the Holocaust. He and his wife Annie were very warm and when I told them we were going to Arturo’s for dinner – my favourite pizza place – they said it was theirs too 🙂

It was a great, intense day. I fell asleep in the cab on the way home. On a personal note, my belly is growing daily and I feel like our little being is being enlightened daily by the people we meet. Before I left someone shared with me that a friend of theirs worked on a Holocaust project while she was pregnant but it was very distressing, and she was worried for the baby. I don’t feel this. This is life and death and life again.

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  1. Good work Mim. Glad you’re documenting… very interesting for you and us! These people who are sharing their stories are in trustworthy, sensitive and understanding hands. Stand tall – and round with the bun in the oven. He he he.
    Oryana

  2. You are on an amazing journey! The work that you are doing is not only hauntingly beautiful and valuable but the world can only be inspired and encouraged by these brave individuals.
    Miriam, your respectful and caring asides about each of them brings them much closer to us. Thank you. I look forward to each additional leg of your journey and to the book, exhibition, doco. that maybe will follow…..

  3. Dear Miriam,
    I absolutely look forward to reading the emails from you and the amazing work you are doing with this project.
    What a amazing project this is and please thank Harry for his beautiful photos and wishing you a safe and I am sure a enlightning trip that you are experiencing.
    Love and Best wishes
    Robinx

  4. Through your blog, we are sharing this fantastic journey. This project reminds us of our history and the amazing strength of the people who were able to survive and tell their story.

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