August 3, 2009

We arrived back in Phoenix last night.  It is just 3 weeks since I returned to the US from Ukraine.  Six weeks have passed since I left New York for Ukraine.  I feel like the trip was a lifetime ago.  Today I bought a quart of whole milk, poured it into a mason jar that is slightly larger than a quart.  The milk is sitting on my counter, ripening, waiting to sour.  Last night I began a project that should have been done years ago.  My dad began it and handed the material to me and it has been sitting in the back of shelves, in drawers and traveling with me, carefully protected wherever I have moved.  The material of which I speak now, are the original letters from Samuel and the enveloped which once held the correspondence from Grandma Blima and Grandpa Harry to Samuel, stamped “return to sender”.  Also there are letters from Diana’s brother Isaac, his wife Bluma, their friend, all pleading with my grandparents to answer Samuel.  These letters are in Polish and date from immediately after the war.  In Yiddish there are letters from the 1920’s from Blima’s mother, Chana.  There are letters in German from Norbert, Grandpa Harry’s brother, dating from the late 1930’s until 1941.  He was killed in Matthausen in 1942.  There are letters from Norbert’s daughter Erika, from after the war.  My grandmother’s naturalization papers and a copy of her school book from when she was learning English in New York, are also there.  Selig Grass’ death certificate and Moses Silberman’s death certificate are also there – those are the two latest death certificates from Europe (until Samuel and Diana’s) – the last of the family to have died natural deaths.  There are many other papers – the ship manifest showing the immigration of my great-grandmother Shaina Mintza Farber Moldavsky with her children in 1910, a census record of Grandpa Harry’s parents and siblings from Europe and more.  The project is to place the fragile sheets of paper in archival safe sheet protectors and to do the same with the Xeroxed copies and translations.  Perhaps at some point a more exact translation will be made of the letters.  Putting them in sheet protectors and then in binders will let us read or scan the letters without taking them out and handling them.  I needed longer/larger sheet protectors and a different size binder – some of the letters are on ledger or legal size pages as are some of the forms.  Much if not all of my early correspondence with Ella is also there.  Reading the letters from Samuel, Norbert and Erika made my brain hurt with the knowledge of their fate.    It’s sixty-eight years since many of these people died.  I didn’t know them.  There aren’t even any stories about them any more.  How can people be wiped out so totally, so completely erased.  A few days after the World Trade Center in New York was attacked, in 2001, I was at my parents’ house and I looked over Jamaica Bay at where I used to see the Trade Center.  There was a weird sort of gray mark from the ground up to the sky that reminded me of the erasure mark of a pencil.  All that was left of those huge strong buildings was this erased sort of haze.

I realized I hadn’t told my dad what Ella said about Oskar – a brother of Samuel’s and Blima’s.  Ella said that she had been told by Samuel that when he returned to Stanislawow after the war and found out the fate of his mother and all his relatives, a neighbor told him that Oskar had run away and come to a neighbor’s house for shelter.  The neighbor took him in for a short time and then the police came looking for him.  The neighbor didn’t know if Oskar was caught or not.  Samuel never heard from his brother again.  My dad did a quick search through some databases and found an Oskar Grass with a birth year close to our Oskar’s listed in the Yad Vashem database as a survivor.  It isn’t our Oskar.  But what if….imagine a life well-lived  instead of the almost certain fate that was his.  We will keep looking, trying to recreate something of the lives of Oskar and the rest of the family.  We know their names.  We want to know more.