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I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust

  • Date: 2 Oct, 2007 at 7:44AM,
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  • I was born into a family that hid in different locations in Slovakia during World War II. My parents succeeded hiding with their little girl thanks to false documents showing they were not Jewish. But in 1943, someone informed on them and they were deported to the Terezienstadt concentration camp. When the war was over, the return home was not a happy one. On my mom’s side she was the only one who came back. In my dad’s family, two of his brothers survived the war; one fought with the Slovak partisans and the other with a Western army.

I grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, even though that word was never mentioned at our home. Fear and insecurity were part of mom’s behavior in spite of my dad’s reassurance that the future will be all right for everyone. My intelligent dad believed in the ideals that eventually destroyed him: the communist promise of equality.

While dad still believed in the communist ideology, he had an important position in the Revolutionary Workers’ Union.  But one day he did not return home from work. In the evening, on that same day, we had a “visit” from the police. Although I was a small child, watching the policemen opening every cabinet and looking at every inch of our apartment left quite an impression on me. My mom and my older sister watched them without a blink because they were afraid that the policemen would plant false documents and then accuse us of illegal activities.

After dad’s arrest, mom had to look for a job to feed us and to pay the rent. Because dad was a political prisoner, the authorities did not allow mommy to even clean kindergartens. The authorities treated her as a dangerous person because she was a wife of the Enemy of the State. Eventually she got permission to be a manicurist. That was fortunate because she made enough for us to survive. The authorities moved two strangers into our apartment.

The neighbors stayed away from us. They were afraid to speak to us. The parents of a girl next door, who was my age, forbade her to come to see me, but they did allow me to visit her. One day, I was in front of their apartment building, but could not reach the doorbell. I asked a man, who was just passing by, to ring the bell for me. When the door opened, he walked into the building with me. His intentions were those of a pedophile. Nothing happened because before he could do anything to me, two other tenants walked in. He ran away with his pants down.

When I got back home, my mother walked with me to the police station to place a complaint. Everyone was very polite when asking me for details about the incident. The policemen brought a photo album and asked me to identify that man. Unfortunately, I did not recognize him from the photos. As we were leaving the police station, the police officers yelled at my mom, “You are a wife of a traitor of our State.”

Two years after his arrest my father returned home. He was 45 years old when he left us. He looked 90 when he returned. He was a broken man physically and emotionally.

The memories of those times are painful and unforgettable. I try not to return to them and not to talk about them. 

In 1968, I emigrated from Slovakia to Israel. I have a new home and I have a nice family.

(The author of this story prefers to remain anonymous)