Introduction

It is Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, forty years after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. As I do every year on this day, I visit my mother’s grave at the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv. The unpretentious headstone, differing little from the other headstones there, is made of polished marble. Copper letters affixed with screws spell out her name and the date of her death as well as the line, “Her memory will always stay in our hearts.” At the foot of the stone, set off by marble slabs, a bed of ornamental asparagus flourishes. In the middle of this bed there’s a stone, carved to resemble a tree stump, commemorating my father, murdered by the Nazis in faraway Poland at the beginning of World War II. I usually visit my parents’ memorials alone because I feel the need to commune with their spirits and the past in absolute silence. The occasion infuses me with sanctity and a sense of perfect union.

Sunken into my thoughts, I stand in the shade of a tree growing next to the headstone, hidden from the spring rays of the sun. A light breeze touches my face and the rustle of the foliage above reminds me of the sighing of the wind in the forest where I hid from the Nazis.

No sound around, only a hunched black-clad figure that tends the flowerbed next to one of the graves. No one else is there, but the forest of silent tombstones.

An inner voice whispers that it’s time to write my story, the story of my family and the story of the Jews of my town. I sit down on the edge of a nearby grave and start to jot things down.

My thoughts wander. Melancholy memories from the town, my home and my childhood rise to the surface. Images of the family members I loved and friends I held dear. All gone. Every last one; women, men, children, old people – cruelly erased. My mind skims: the ghetto, the camp, the forests, until the first coherent memory forms.

I’m young, a child of four or so, and it’s a snowy winter’s day. I’m on my way to heider [1]. I’m walking in the ditch at the side of the road where the snow is deepest, loving how I sink into it with each step. My father, who’s been watching me from the window, comes up behind me, picks me up in his arms, and carries me back home. I’m scared. I know I’ve done something bad. I feel guilty and accept my punishment: having to drink the glass of milk I refused before leaving the house. With a certain sense of relief and without protest, I down the whole glass almost in a single gulp. And I promise that from that day on, I’ll be “a good boy and walk only on the sidewalk, like a big, sensible boy, and head directly to school.”

[1]Religious school typically attended full-time by boys aged 3 to 13.