When our children were very young, they often played together with the children of another family who lived on our block.
We always marveled at how well they all got along, racing around the block on their Big Wheels.
Often, their grandmother, who lived in the neighborhood, would hover nearby.
She seemed like a nice person. But there was a sadness about her, even when she smiled. And her eyes always darted nervously back and forth, as though scanning her surroundings.
And then, there was the tattoo.
On her forearm. Numbers, in blue ink.
I knew that she had been in a concentration camp. More than that, though, I did not know.
Several years ago, I ran into my neighbor. Both of us leading busy lives, we had not seen each other for some time.
She told me that her mother had passed away. I expressed my condolences.
She said she was determined to keep her mother’s story alive, and that she was speaking to schools and groups, without charge, to tell them her mother’s story.
She added that she and her siblings had self-published their mother’s memoir that they were giving to all those who were interested, telling of their mother’s wartime experiences. Would I like to read it, she asked.
The next day, I found a manila envelope in our mailbox. The thick pamphlet was entitled, Branded For Life, By Rose Kurz, As Told To Her Granddaughter.
In stunning simplicity, her mother described being taken to Auschwitz at 14 years of age. And somehow, miraculously, surviving. The only one of her entire family to survive.
She was 17 years old on the day Auschwitz was liberated.
Of all the stories she told, there is one that I would like to share with you:
Towards the end of war, she was given a job in the Auschwitz factory, checking and sorting grenades.
In Auschwitz, there was quite a large Underground Resistance Movement. These courageous Jews worked together with the Poles to thwart any Nazi plan and outsmart their malevolent schemes. Four girls, just a little bit older than myself, who worked in this room, were very involved in the Underground. Each day they would hide ammunition powder in the seams of their clothing. Although their pockets were thoroughly checked and their bodies were searched each day after work, they managed to hand over quite a large amount of powder to their co-conspirators in the resistance movement….I remember those girls well. Esther Wadjablum, Regina Sapherstein, Rosa Robota and Alla Gertner….
A granule of powder – so tiny, so seemingly insignificant. What could a single tiny piece of powder do anyway? Yet how many granules had they amassed in their little underground? Each single granule a proof of the value of the individual. Each granule a testimonial to the individuals who had died….
We were greeted one summer day in 1944 by a deafening blast. The most gruesome of the three crematoriums, the one in which people were burned alive, was blown to bits….Of course, with the investigation which was performed immediately and with perfect Nazi precision, it did not take too long until my four friends were caught.
The Nazis lost no time in arranging four large gallows in the middle of the karneiplotz. Our entire factory, one thousand women, were made to assemble outside to view the fate of the perpetrators of Nazi sabotage.
We all stood there. I was right up front. I could see the expressions on the faces of these young heroines. They were so calm, unafraid….
And, Never Forget.