It’s Holocaust Remembrance Day and so I thought I use the opportunity to share a personal story, a detail about my family I just learnt recently while talking to my grandparents. As always with these little details it was just a side note, nothing to further the real topic of conversation.
So far I always thought the Jewish part of my family was one of the lucky ones, who got away without suffering the worst. I knew that some members found refuge in the UK, the US, Australia, Algeria and even Singapore, while my grandparents (born 33 and 34) remained with their mothers and siblings in Germany. They were never deported and lived to see the end of the Reich in their little hometowns in Brandenburg and Swabia.
What I wasn’t aware of is that cousins of them did end up in a concentration camp. One in particular was a Kroliki, a Rabbit as described in Elizabeth Wein’s Rose Under Fire. These were people used for cruel medical experiments. In the few cases these Rabbits survived the torture they remained physically handicapped for life.
The fact of the experiments was a side note in the side note of my grandparents’ tale. I think they actually started to talk about the oldest brother of my grandfather, who ran off after the war the moment he was old enough to join the French Foreign Legion. He stayed with this cousin when he was in Paris, because the story goes that this cousin not wanting to stay another day in camp after its liberation went all the way to Paris, where she sat on a park bench. A Parisian started to talk to her, took her in and married her later.
Selma, yes that was her name, couldn’t sit or stand for any prolonged period of time so she usually hunched over a stool in the kitchen, where she would remove the bones and skin of the chicken before serving it. Oh, now I remember, our conversation started over roasted chicken. Believe it or not, my grandmother is still a little cross with Selma – now long gone and dead – for keeping the best part of the meal – the roasted skin – to herself.
It’s funny what the things are that are important and are remembered after such a long time. From my step-great-grandfather, who survived Dachau, I only know that he waited every Saturday with his unlit pipe in his mouth impatiently for the first three stars to show up. It’ life we remember and that every life is unique and precious.