My mother and father were 7 and 9 years old when World War II was over.
They survived by pure luck.
My mother passed away before my children were born and my father passed away when my children were very young.
With the encouragements of my husband Steve I have started to write short stories about my family and dedicated A book to Judith & Martin To create a connection between my children and their grandparents
The following story (very short) is a conversation between me and my mother when I was about 5 or 6. It is told the best I remember.
“Mom, I just made a cat, look, look”, I shouted. “That looks wonderful sweetheart, just like a real kitty but why is it green?” replied my mother.
“But mom, this cat is an eco-friendly cat, it fell into a chlorophyll tank and now it transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen, it is going to make our air cleaner, just like you and Dad always talk about. “Mom, I just made a cat, look, look”, I shouted. “That looks wonderful sweetheart, just like a real kitty but why is it green?” replied my mother.
“But mom, this cat is an eco-friendly cat, it fell into a chlorophyll tank and now it transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen, it is going to make our air cleaner, just like you and Dad always talk about.
Mom can you draw a friend for my cat?” “Sweetheart you know I cannot draw”, said my mother.
And she was right, she actually could not draw. She was terrible with pencils, crayons and markers and she was worse with paint and brushes. We are talking about a mom who dragged me and my brother into museums all over the world, a mother in awe in front of any painting, drawing or other creative output.
“Why are you not able to draw? My teacher can draw, Anne’s mother can draw, and even grandpa is really good at drawing horses. So why not you? Are you sick?”
“Come here”, said my mother and sat down on the sofa. I walked over to the living room and sat on her lab. She put her arms around me and she said: ”When I was your age, my country was at war.”
“Like the war on TV?” I asked. “Something like that”, she answered, “ but this war was targeted also to erase certain groups of people.” She continued: ”We did not have time for many games and we really did not have much of a childhood. At your age, our house had just received a bomb and had been three quarters destroyed.
The living room, you know the room where Grandma covers up the furniture all year around, was the only room intact. My father was somewhere in the South of France called the “zone libre *” and we were waiting that he was coming back to get us, my mother, me and my younger sister Anne-Liese. But he never came and we were stuck in the broken house not knowing what we would do when the winter would come.
My mother, your grandmother, was wearing her worry face all the time. We were living on Rabbit Lane 20,(literal translation) most Jewish families were gathered on Rabbit Lane 6 and then transported away. We felt like rabbits stuck in a rabbit whole with no chance of getting ever out of it. Some families had run off to England we heard.
My mother did not know what to do with a 2 and a 5 year old. We would have been most likely one of the next families to move into #6 and then be taken away but we were lucky.
God had decided otherwise for us. My father was a good man. He was a certified saddle maker and he could make or repair saddles and a lot of other leather goods. The place where we lived was very rural, most of his customers paid in eggs, chicken and apples.
He never really cared if and how he was paid. He did not care for the money. He always just laughed and said that we would have more chicken soup and apple pie. My mother, your grandmother firmly believed that that was the reason why we were saved. ”
“As I said, my mother continued, the region from where I am is very rural and very, very catholic. People did not very much agree with the war and all the politics but people were also scared. Our family did not look like anything that was told about Jews, we did not have big noses, we were not rich and we were pretty respected in the little area we lived in. We were known for many generations and my parent’s parents had done many things our town.
I do not know how it came all together, I was only five years old, but when my mother became completely desperate with us two little children, the church took us in. We would then live the next 2 years, until the war was over in the basement of the priest’s house. Nobody could know about this, we had to be quiet and silent but at least we had food, water and shelter.
When we left our house in the middle of the night for our new refuge, we had to be quick and could only take a couple of things.
Well I picked up a little red pencil that my mother used
to balance her grocery money and placed it in the pocket of my dress.
While we were sitting in our exile, I was often very bored.
A lot of times I thought about using the pencil and making a drawing on the walls of the cellar but then I would consume my pencil and we would either not be able to sharpen it again or if we would sharpen it and I would continue to draw, I would reach the moment where I would consume it entirely. So I grabbed the pencil with my hands closed my eyes and in my mind I took a piece of imaginary paper and I made a drawing. I would then archive the paper in my mind and continue the drawing the next day. Days and Nights passed and I archived many, many imaginary drawings.
I had my own imaginary art gallery planted in brain. Only I could not share it with anyone. Time moved on and we experienced quite a few bomb raids during these 2 years. We were not allowed in any real shelter, we had to stay where we were. Every time during a raid while my mother was keeping her arms around me and my sister she would either pray or sing to us.
I would grab the pencil and hold it tight, very tight. My knuckles would turn white. It helped me to ease my mind in these difficult moments. All my fear, anger and despair would go into it as well as my longing to make real drawings. The pencil was my friend. It gave me hope and comfort and as it was my friend I would never use it. And that is why now as a grown up, I cannot draw.”
While she was talking her story ran through my mind like a movie. I had seen pictures of her as a child and I pictured her, her sister and Granny in the dark basement feeling awfully alone.
I looked at my mother and then I said: “Where is the pencil now? I want to see it, I want to touch it.” “I don’t have it anymore,” said my mother, “once we could move back into our broken house, my father returned from France and started rebuilding it. I had the pencil for the longest time in a drawer in my room and then one day it was gone – magically.
I was about 13 at that time and I thought that maybe the pencil had travelled to some other child in need of it. At least that is what I hope it did.”
And that is why my mother could not draw and was in awe when looking at my artistic abilities. She encouraged my imagination and creativity and probably influenced my studies tremendously. Although the pencil took shape in my imagination, I would give anything to have it in my possession.