portraits

NewYork Day 3

In On the Road in NY on June 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Day 5 began with the table already set for breakfast the night before by Susanne. This reminds me again of my grandmother and aunt Ida – especially my grandmother because Susanne is German, grew up in Berlin and has that European sensibility that makes me feel at home. Susanne is not Jewish and her being German makes me feel that this project in a sense has come full circle. This train of thought is probably for another time because I have many thoughts on this but let me just say that for me, being friends with German people and talking about the Holocaust gives me hope and comfort. It brings us to the essence of being human, takes away labels and countries and religion and makes room for deeper connection. I know this may upset some people, especially holocaust survivors but I have always felt this way. So day 5 began in my grandmother’s kitchen with muesli and engaging conversation between the four of us.

Our first stop was far away in the lush, picturesque town of Newtown, Connecticut (nothing like the urban sprawl of Newtown Sydney!). We were greeted by Jodi the dog and then child survivor Peter, who survived Bergen concentration camp with his brother and only in recent years discovered a photo of the two of them standing behind the barbed wire fence on liberation day, Peter 9 years old. Peter who was a school teacher, says in many ways the child survivors were much more aware of potentially what was happening than some of the adults, you were able to say this is what it is. I asked him what he would say to that 9 year old now – “It’s going to be nicer than you think it is because it’s been a good life.” To a child of survivor of genocide today he would say, “Get as much education and love as you can.”

What’s in a name? Next stop was Hamden CT, another hour or so north. We met with 73 year old hidden child Mira – also a Miriam who also was a documentary filmmaker. Mira emailed me a few days ago to ask if we want to include her mother Dora in the project. (Dora is my mother’s name too!) Dora survived two winters in Auschwitz and is now 95 years old. She lives 15 minutes away in a retirement village. Mira warned me that Dora has dementia and may not be able to participate plus she is hard of hearing but hates it when people yell at her – we will have to see how we go. When we arrive at Dora I am amazed. Dressed in a red top, wearing red lipstick and looking rather immaculate – Dora is a picture of elegance. Watching Harry engage with her was incredible – it was like he had Dora in a trance of sorts – she responded to him accurately, understood all his directions and definitely enjoyed the experience. Even Mira was amazed. I think Harry’s gift is that he is always himself. He doesn’t change for anyone and this in a sense gives people a sense of comfort and trust. Harry then took a photo of mother and daughter – it was a very delicate moment – seeing mother and daughter look each other in the eye. And of course not just because of the names, I thought of me and my mother, us ageing and sitting on a couch together and looking into each other’s souls. When we leave I ask Mira what her middle name is – she says Rahel. This my mother’s middle name. She ask me mine – Esther I tell her. She says that is her mother’s middle name. What’s in a name? There is something.

Our final stop for the Connecticut journey was in Stamford. Hungarian hidden child Agi immediately offered each of us a bowl of vegetable soup when we walked in the door. It is around 30+ degrees each day we have been on the road – but there is nothing like a bowl of soup with barley in it when you are on the road everyday. The soup was delicious and Agi a wonderful host. Agi only moved to the US in 1956 when there was an uprising in Hungary – she survived not only the Holocaust but then communist Hungary. She says what kept her going was that she was looking for freedom.

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