portraits

NewYork Day 8

In On the Road in NY on June 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Today is our last day. Can’t quite believe it. The week has flown by and also felt very long – we both know we will look back on this with a sense of awe and feeling of achievement. It has been intense but very rewarding and I feel I have grown as a person in this very short time.

I am now at the airport – Harry and I said our farewells on the airtrain at JFK and went to our separate terminals. We are a bit delirious by this time of day especially given it is our last day. Now I am sitting in terminal 4 on my way to Israel which is very exciting and I am looking forward to seeing family, relaxing, swimming and eating lots! My belly has grown daily and this little baba is due to enjoy the best humus, salad and cheese around. I found myself a little spot where I can charge my laptop but there is no free wifi here so will have to post this when I arrive in Israel.

So what can I say? I guess I should complete this part of the journey in the same way it started and talk about each individual that we saw today. But before I do that I want to take this moment to reflect on this part of the journey as a whole. If I compare this trip to Israel last year – one distinct difference is that these Holocaust survivors are American. America, like Israel, has a very strong culture and despite that all of the survivors we meet come from Europe, they have nearly all integrated into American culture and have become American. There are definite similarities between Holocaust survivors worldwide but I definitely noticed the force of the American way of life. We met many authors, artists, teachers and scientists – these professions stood out. Family photos adorned most people’s lounge rooms and fridges. We were offered Seltzer a lot (just like soda water I think) and iced tea. Gotta catch a plane …

I am now in Israel at my parents in law. I managed to sleep about 7 hours on the plane which was great. For those of you who haven’t flown El Al – it is an experience like no other. If the majority of the passengers are Israeli you are in for a cultural treat. On  what other airline do people applaud when you touch down? On what other airline are there ten or so men standing at the back of the plane ‘shockeling’ or swaying as they recite the morning prayers in unison? In my experience only on El Al.

It is now 5am – I wonder what the significance of 5am in any country is and as I cannot sleep I will now add the people of our last day in NY. I have many thoughts about the project as a whole but will write that up as a separate entry in the next few days.

The day started out with a few hiccups – including a potential leak in the apartment i was staying in which then delayed us to our first meeting in Queens. No problem of course and we were not only welcomed warmly, but welcomed with a delicious lunch of bagels, cream cheese, cold cuts (which i sadly cannot eat!) salad and seltzer. Inge was born in Germany and spent three years between 7-10 years of age in the Terezin concentration camp. She has written many books, but her most famous book is “I am a star”. She still has her yellow star “jude” from the war years which she keeps carefully wrapped  in plastic to preserve it for years to come. Inge suggested she wear her star for hr photograph – a decision both Harry and I agreed is very powerful. I didn’t interview Inge, but rather she read her poem “I am a Star” on camera in both english and german. Both readings were incredibly compelling though in German haunting and more emotional. Inge says when she goes to schools and speaks about her book she gets al the kids to stand up and declare “i am a star”. she says at first they just say it quietly, shyly. But once she encourages them to really say it, they do. This reminds me of a scene in Dead Poet’s Society where the students stand on their desks and read a poem aloud. It also takes me back to my own highschool days when the fantastic Mrs Wenig also got us to stand on our desks when reading some literature. When Inge then sees the kids in the hallways she goes up to them and asks – who are you? – and they all respond – I am a star. Inge has no children of her own, but from what she has shared with us, it seems like she has many children all over the world, sending her gifts and letters of gratitude, following her trail on the ‘starlit’ path.

As our day was already delayed I didn’t get a chance to interview our next survivor on Long Island, hidden child Gloria, who when she wrote to me said, “I am alive only by the courage of my parents who gave me away to a benevolent Christian woman who sheltered me throughout the Shoah.”

Next stop was further along Long Island to meet with 80 year old Rudy, a hidden child from Belgium. When Rudy emailed me a picture of himself I knew we were to be meeting with quite a character. Rudy wears rather big glasses, a bow tie and has a thing for hats which lay in single file on the couch as we enter his home. Though Rudy says he is not a practicing Jew, he is very jewish. I ask him what this means – “to me being jewish is almost a nationality.” He then explains that when his father would refer to a Polish man, he meant a real Polish man, not a Polish jew. “and so to me it’s a nationality”. This reminds me of a question we were asked as teenagers – are you a Jewish Australian or an Australian Jew. I still don’t know which come first, but probably being Jewish. I still feel more connected to my cultural heritage than my Australian heritage and this has nothing to do with religion for me. The older I get however, the more I appreciate being born in Australia and the more i am eager to explore Australia and its indigenous people. On the first day Rudy was liberated he went on a tram in Belgium and was verbally abused by a man who pointed to him and said in french “hey kike, how come they didn’t get you.” Rudy said more than just being mad, he was ashamed that this person could tell at a glance that he was not only a jew but a dirty jew. Rudy said he then got off the streetcar and went back into hiding for the next 20-30 years – “a psychological hiding where i didn’t want to be jewish. To me being jewish was a disease and i had it and i didn’t like it.” I ask him how he came out of this – he says it was gradual. I later ask Rudy what makes him happy, he says so many things. When i ask him what he is most proud of he refers to a Peurto Rican saying – In his lifetime a man should write a book, plant a tree and have a son. He has done all three and is proud of all of them. Having the respect from others is very important to him.

Our final stop in NY is to visit with Kindertransport survivors and married couple 84 year olds Kurt and Margaret. Kurt first checked with the Hidden Child organisation in NY if we were considering Kindertransport children as survivors. In short, yes. Certainly their experience was different being in England during the war years, but these children are survivors too. I don’t get a chance to interview Margaret but luckily i have a quick chat with Kurt. Both Kurt and his wife do a lot of community work and Kurt is the president of the Kindertransport Association. “Both of us feel that we learnt the lesson from the Holocaust – to give back in a sense. I’m a firm believer in the civil rights movement, i was active in it because i believe that all people are created equal and w should get equal treatment. Unfortunately we haven’t learned anything we still have the horrors going on like in Darfur and other places. Despite this, Kurt says he is hopeful. He says the KTA’s commitment is twofold – firstly to tell their stories to students and secondly, they have a fund that members contribute to that goes to children in need today “regardless of their ethnicity or colour or whatever may be.” I ask Kurt what he has learnt most about himself from his experience he responds – “that as a human being I can do something for the community and people are very satisfied with that.  i think that’s probably to me the best lesson that it gave me is that life is not central alone to yourself – it’s the total community that has to get together and develop the kind of program which is helpful to everybody.”  I am happy to end our trip on this note.

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  1. I love this: “…Rudy… When i ask him what he is most proud of he refers to a Peurto Rican saying – In his lifetime a man should write a book, plant a tree and have a son.”
    You are almost there Mim! Happy travels to you and your second heart beat and love to Guy too. xx

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