They had arrested him less than eight months before, so her going away was already secondary. Life is strange that way.
We had no idea whether or not we would ever see either of our parents again. They became “Enemies of the State”. My sister and I were left on our own. People disappeared left and right, during the day and at night.
I remember a ten-year-old boy who a year later brought us a note (he’d had quite a few of such notes) that our mother will be on a train in a Sorting Station outside of the city. From there the train would make the long, torturous journey to the labor camp at an unknown destination. We rushed to the site, not knowing when the train was to leave. We’d managed to see our mother twice during the week the train was at the Sorting Station.
Both times we waited our turn among hundreds of children and adults who came to try to see their beloved mothers, daughters and sisters through one small barred window. Both times we saw our mother for just two minutes. Her face was filled of surprise and disbelief. Her image framed by the window is imprinted on my mind, impossible to hang on the wall. A vertical bar separated her eyes, and a horizontal bar sliced her mouth. With the noise coming from all directions, we tried to catch every word. A lot could be said in two minutes or nothing at all. What do you say to your mother you may never see again? What if she didn’t survive the labor camp? I don’t remember the words that left my lips. I don’t remember what my sister or my fiancée said. I hope it reassured our mother and made her believe we would endure without her, that we would not lose each other.
Rumors of the train’s imminent departure reached the relatives of the damned, and crowds flocked to the freight cars. We traveled to a Sorting Station a third time. The authorities were well prepared this time, and did not condone any contact. Guards with attack dogs surrounded the train. Any attempt to approach the tracks and the dogs threatened to harm.
We waited in vain to say our final good-bye.
It was impossible to walk away. I remember not being able to leave the spot. I was paralyzed.
Our mother returned five years after her arrest. She believed to the last day of her life that it was all a mistake and not a systematic annihilation of the intelligentsia.
Our father never returned. He was shot soon after his arrest. Fifteen years later we learned the truth.
* * *
I collect memories of events I was not a part of and make them my own reliving their pain.
I was there at the train tracks. I was my grandmother and her sister.
I was my grandfather.
I remember the bridge, we struggled so hard to build under the enemy’s unrelenting small arms and machine gun fire. Once it was finished our troops began crossing the river until the bridge full of infantry, trucks and tanks went down in a blast of the first artillery barrage.
I was with my grandfather liberating a small concentration camp somewhere in Germany. I remember the survivors hugging my grandfather in amazement that they were freed by a Jew, in a uniform with the rank of a captain. I was there when some died from gorging themselves on the food brought in by the troops.
I was in Berlin two days after the war ended. I remember the photograph of my grandfather and his friends taken in front of the fallen Reichstag. He didn’t look happy or sad; he looked to his future. I was his future.