Yesterday was the day I observe as my maternal grandparents’ yahrzeit, the anniversary of the day in 1943 that they were taken from Berlin to Auschwitz. There is no way to know the exact date of their deaths. It wasn’t until 1959 that my mother received a certificate from the International Red Cross containing the date and the fact of their deportation. However, it said, “There is no proof of death. We are therefore not in a position to issue a death certificate.” Eerily, the document she received is also dated January 12.

Two candles are burning on my kitchen counter. I said Kaddish when I lit them last night. I didn’t shed any tears until today. This morning, I woke with a sour stomach and spent an extra couple of hours in bed, wondering if it was something I ate. I still feel punky.

My life is lived on multiple tracks. I imagine that’s true for all of us. It’s not that some of them are more valuable than others. Maybe that’s not the right word. Real, perhaps. On one of them, I’m doing what I can to integrate myself into my new community and handle the myriad mundane tasks of daily life. Making banana bread with my neighbor. Taking walks with her along the Mohawk or in the corridors of our building, having everything from geeky writer’s conversations to discussing what we should bake next (we’re thinking apple pie). Volunteering once a week at the Regional Food Bank. Working my part time Seattle job. Going to the market, cleaning, paying bills, reading, playing word games and Sudoku. Talking with my friends, scattered around the country, on the phone.

And then there are the hours I spend in the 1940s with my parents and grandparents. After my mother died, in January of 1990, I found letters, in German, that my grandparents wrote to her. The letters were written between my mother’s escape from the Nazis, in November of 1939, through 1941. All they were able to send in 1942 were a half dozen communications, of “twenty-five words of a personal nature only,” on Red Cross forms. Then, despite all her efforts to locate them, nothing until that 1959 Red Cross certificate.

It’s taken me over thirty years to get my grandparents’ letters into book form, along with historical context (what was going on at the same time as they wrote their daughter not to “lose your courage”? Turns out, it was Himmler ordering the creation of Auschwitz) and reflections from me. It’s not done yet, though it’s getting close. And it’s a bitch. The story always ends the same way, no matter how much I long for it to have a different outcome.

What keeps me going is that the only thing harder than working on the letters is not working on them. So I stop and start, advancing and then retreating when it becomes overwhelming. It is my hope that starting to go public with this layer of my life will help release some of the toxins my body and spirit are carrying. I know well that playing it too close to the chest is detrimental to the health.

Or maybe it’s just something I ate.

Photo by Ruth Neuwald Falcon


  1. The story must be told. The first book I ever read was recommended to me by the local librarian. When she asked what I liked to read I said I don’t know, I’ve only read text books. She looked at me, up and down, and then pulled “The Diary of Anne Frank” from the shelf and said I think you would like this one. I did, I cried, and thought every young person would have their eyes opened. The story must be told.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ruth

    You have quite a project going with putting together a book with your grandparents letters and the historical context. It is a labor of love to do so, but it requires hours of labor intensive translation and research. It takes a lot of personal energy. I am proud of you for continuing the work.

    Although the situation is much different, I am writing some stories about my beloved grandmother. I have some taped conversations. For some reason, I am hesitant to hear her voice again. I know it will be bitter/sweet. But I, also, must complete the work. I empathize with your situation.

    Your life is very full and busy. You are contributing in many ways. Keep up the good work and take good care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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