I asked my mother about what I knew were own frequent nightmares. I knew of them because I often heard her crying and screaming at night, through the walls of our small apartment.
She got that far away look in her eyes and told me only that yes, she too had nightmares. Her nightmares however were so very different, she being a survivor of the Holocaust. I could not at that young age begin to imagine the terrors she dreamt about, but I knew them to be different because she told me they never were the same, just different unending horrors each night. The details of her nightmares left untold somehow seemed to bother me more than if she told me what they entailed. It would be years later until I began to better understand them.
While the number of those murdered in the Holocaust is frequently referred to as SIX MILLION, that number is simply beyond most peoples grasp too. How to relate to that number eluded me. Years later in eighth grade I came home and proudly showed her my new class school photo. I innocently asked her if she had any of her old school photos, and it surprised me when she said yes. Her tormented youth was something she rarely talked about.
Opening a old tin box that I had never seen, since she kept it hidden on the top shelf of her closet, she carefully picked out her own class picture, “Taken before the war,” she explained. The sheer loveliness of the group of young girls amazed me. I could easily pick my mom’s face out, her own beauty had not yet faded with age. Her twenty other young girl friends were all amazingly lovely too. Each was dressed in a fancy party dress made from shimmering silks, satins and lace, their hair done up in fancy curls and bows.
“The girls” she explained becoming more somber, ” in those days we went to a separate finishing school where we learned how to cook, clean and sew. The boys went to another school where they learned how to farm and do wood working. Oh my, look how beautiful they were.” And they were, each so full of life, smiling and laughing, their eyes bright.
“Are you still friends with any of them.” I asked, immediately seeing the change again in my mother, now dreading her answer. “No,” she said, “they are all dead. Each was killed during the holocaust.’ The life now completely gone from her haunted drained face. To this day I can not look at a group photo and not remember the horror of my mothers picture, knowing they were all killed. That is something that would haunt me every time I viewed any photo of any group, dead all of them, murdered. That I could unfortunately relate to.