Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Does it Matter?

Inspired by the Holocaust conference at Pacific Lutheran, I began to write small essays to convey my thoughts on that experience.  The blog that I created to understand my heritage had remained idol for years.  Even if the audience had been only me, I would have found it to be good therapy.   I began writing; chronicling thoughts on what I experienced.  However, the endeavor was derailed temporarily, shelved for a short time after a visit to my sister.

I shelved my essays, decided that it didn’t matter.  I wasn’t sent out in to the world with a toolbox that had any useable tools.  The tools I have; I created and collected myself.  They are the essays I write to sort out the past and plan the future.  Responding to negativity by ignoring and hiding from it doesn’t serve my purpose.

Pacific Lutheran University has a Holocaust Center.  Yearly, they offer the Powell-Heller Conference on the Holocaust, now in its ninth year.  This year’s subject interested it me, Women and the Holocaust.  I attended the conference for the first time.  My daughter Kerrie and her two daughters attended programs with me.  However, we haven’t gathered to share what we learned from those programs.  Sharing experiences is not a trait that I possess.  Sharing is not a trait my Opa and Oma possessed.  I wonder how the unspoken words in their house tainted me.
My sister is a very negative person.  She is sixteen months younger than I am.  She also witnessed underlying tensions during our formative years in our grandparent’s house that had no explanation.  The same as I had.  My sister knew as little about the maternal family history that fueled those negative currents in that home as I did.  We grew up with German Lutheran immigrants who came to the U.S. because of the political climate.  Not Holocaust survivors. We witnessed and overheard snippets, but when things escalated, they reverted to speaking in German.  She now knows her Mother’s family is Jewish.  She now has some knowledge of the family history, preferring to stay in her own imaginative world instead.  She studied fairy and folk tales in school and is more at ease with the Norwegian trolls of her father’s heritage.  However, my sister’s bitterness over Opa and Oma’s presence in her life is still the fuel that starts her day.  She asked what I had been doing at Pacific Lutheran University for three days.
I shared a great session featuring Olga KaczmarekI, the director for the Polish Forum for Dialogue.  Poland is 95% Roman Catholic today and there is little knowledge among the youth to explain why their country has such a single, ethnic make-up.   There is a project in Poland to educate the young people in Poland about the Holocaust.  Many of the villages had a 20% to 85% Jewish population prior to the Holocaust.  The last exodus of Jews from Poland happened in 1968, according to the speaker.  After the war, Poland was under Communist rule.  The Polish Universities had a large Jewish population of educators who left in 1968 because of the political climate.  The Jewish people value education and knowledge. The hole has never been filled.  
I shared the Polish session with my sister. She informed me that she read all of the Holocaust stories.   She talked about Jewish people trying to locate prized family heirlooms that were trusted to those they thought of as friends, to be kicked out of their former homes as they recognized their parent’s prayer shawls used as table cloths. She talked with clench fists about stories she had no context for. 
I retreated to my fertile mind and found myself imaging my sister standing in a bread line with an oversized basket, watching a woman in front of her with a much smaller basket receive two loaves of bread.  I imagined her staring at the woman’s basket, then looking at the two loaves of bread in her oversized basket.  My sister would,  and I have no doubt,  be screaming and yelling that they filled the other person’s basket more than half full and that her basket was more than half empty. 
During the conference, I heard a story about Nazis removing Jewish farmers from their farms and moving in non-Jewish people.  These orchestrated relocations were done in a day long blitz.  After the war, a Jewish farmer visited his former farm.  Trying to assure the occupants that he wasn’t there to reclaim it, just to see it; he showed the current tenants his name carved in a tree.  The people asked where the gold was.  The Jewish farmer told them there was no gold. He was just a farmer. They wouldn't believe it, couldn’t believe it.  Shortly afterward, the whole farm was bulldozed in an effort to find the gold.
History is replete with stories of the conflicts between the Jewish people and their neighbors.  Is it a half full, half empty conundrum?  

Survivor’s Guilt

Pacific Lutheran University hosts a yearly a Holocaust Conference which I attended this year.  Learning about the role women played in the Holocaust intrigued me.  It began with a musical tribute.  Poems and stories set to music.  I was enchanted by the violinist.  He played his instrument with joy and enthusiasm.  It was infectious. 

Set to music, there was a story of an abandoned suitcase lamenting over the whereabouts of its old and blind master.  I was reminded of the death certificate that I had located for my great grandfather, an elderly gentleman executed shortly after his arrival at a camp;  an elderly gentlemen who was a community rabbi, a neighborhood organizer.

There was a story of a young Jewish lawyer who hid behind a new identity to avoid the gas chambers.  It was powerful.  The gifted singer drew you in to the story.  With stage props, you could feel the young woman sitting at her desk, a non-Jewish political prisoner, in a coveted desk job, inventorying the meager possessions of the women lined up on the other side of her wall.  The noise, the smell invading her space as the women walked the path to their certain death.  Returning to Auschwitz long after the war, much older, she imagines the camp as it was, although the reality was that the camp was no longer the camp of her nightmares.  It was now presentable.  It was for tourists.  Survivor’s guilt haunts her.  And the violinist played on with a passion for the music that told the story.

The violin; I approached the violinist during the reception after the performance and thanked him.  I shared with him that my great grandfather died at a camp.  I explained that my grandfather, Opa, had a violin in the closet of his den.  I never knew the story of his violin, never knew if it was his or if he had ever played it.  Like the suitcase, did the violin lose its master?  Perhaps it was survivor’s guilt? 

My grandparents; my Opa and Oma, their son and my mother had fled from Eger (Cheb) and sought refuge in Prague.  They left Prague through the efforts of the underground.  They made a perilous journey to Holland.  My mother, a little girl at the time, recalled one soldier checking their travel papers and dropping them on the floor.  As he was clumsily picking them up he pointed them to the door at the train station and whispered, “GO!”  They traveled to the United States on one of the last refugee boats allowed to dock in New York. 

Do Americans realize that like the Syrian refugees now, many Jewish refugees could not find sanctuary in the United States?

It was only toward the end of my grandparent’s lives that I realized that they were not German Lutheran immigrants that came here because of the political climate.  Opa began to drop meager breadcrumbs about the “old country.”  I overheard that my great grandfather didn’t want to immigrate.  I cannot remember if the story I overheard came from Opa or if my mother told the story.  I hear Opa's voice in my head when I think of it.   When they fled Prague, Opa’s father had said that he was an old man and he couldn’t imagine being thought of as a threat. My great grandfather remained in Prague with a friend of his.  "What threat could two old Jewish men be?" he said as he sent them away. 

Opa's brother was a talented lawyer.  However, his heart lie in art history and puppets.  He had an adult puppet theater that was well known.  There was an exhibition of his puppets recently.  Spielberg has a collection of movies.  On youtube, if you search for Spielberg Out of Evil, the movie features his puppets.  Half-way, around 46, 52:35 is a glimpse of Paul Lowy, my great uncle.  He looks a lot like my Opa. 


Powell-Heller Conference

I attended the ninth annual Powell-Heller Conference for Holocaust Education at Pacific Lutheran University this year, for the first time.  Information on the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program at the university can be found at .

November 1 - 3, 2017 is the tenth annual conference.  The theme will be an exploration of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Nazi Germany and in the Holocaust.

She is sitting in an urn on my bookcase in a black vase I know she would appreciate.  I am still thinking about what to do with her ashes.  It is complicated.  I do talk to her on occasion.
When she was close to passing, and even before, she said she wanted to be cremated (I have it in writing).  My uncle in England was not happy with the choice, he contacted me.  I ruminated over it.  …looked at her note.  I did take his concerns to heart.  Anyone else but my mother and I probably would have capitulated.
The way Mother wore her Star of David and the way she told people she escaped the Holocaust always felt to me like she was looking to shock them.  She said she was Jewish. This was something that was never talked about or mentioned until the last few years of her life.  Trauma to children brings unreal baggage to adulthood.  
Experiences were shelved away in my mother’s memory.  Her life before the family’s arrival in the United States was stored in the basement.  In her old age, she would bring them out, not to reminisce, but, it seemed, only to get reactions from people.  Recovery from her childhood experiences for my mother would have been further complicated by the very complex relationship with her own mother.  It would have been virtually impossible. My mother belittled her mother.  She mocked her.  My mother told me often that she hated her mother.  There was no relenting, even in her old age.
Pacific Lutheran University’s Powell-Heller Conference for Holocaust Education in 2016 included a session on Anne Frank.  Not the retelling of a naïve, sanitized middle school literature and civic class version, but one of exploring the real diary, circumstances, and emotions that shaped Anne’s experience. If I was a student, I would be standing in line for Professor Kirsten Christensen’s classes. 
Both she and Professor Clementi of the University of South Carolina lectured on Anne Frank, suggesting new ideas in teaching her experience.  I was intrigued.  I saw Anne Frank as a girl, evolving into a woman during her days in hiding.  The conflicts with her mother seemed typical of a young girl going from childhood to adulthood.  The angst of adolescence. The days of captivity just magnified them.
My mother’s timeline is a work in progress, but I think she was eight when her family left their home in Eger (Cheb).  They almost did not make it to the United States.  They may have been in Prague for two years before they were smuggled to Holland.  In one story my mother recounted (in her later years), the man who was to house them overnight on one leg of their journey to Holland wouldn’t open his door.  Her father, my Opa, kept throwing rocks at his window.  The man relented and opened the door, embarrassed that it was his charges trying to gain entry.  He thought the SS was trying to trick him. Fleeing for a young child must have been terrifying.  However, I never saw that in my own mother’s retellings. I do not know if it was the trauma or if it was the spoiled, privileged little girl ripped away from a Nanny she adored and forced to interact with a woman she begrudgingly called mother. 
The family relocated to West Los Angeles.  Immigrants tend to congregate together.  The Nanny, a Roman Catholic, had also migrated to the strong German community in Los Angeles.  She and my mother met in Los Angeles once.  My impression was that it happened when my mother was a young adult. The Nanny offered to be a part of her new life, but my mother (or her family?) said, "No." 
I had thought of my Grandparents (Opa and Oma) and Mother as German Lutherans.  It is interesting that I knew the Nanny was Catholic, but I did not know that my mother’s family was Jewish.
Throughout my childhood, my mother would mention that meeting.  I saw little maternal instincts in my own mother as I grew up.  As an adult, I could see my mother as that angry eight-year-old girl.  Listening to the Anne Frank lecture made me wonder if my own mother had missed that entire adolescent period because she refused to let go (or couldn't) of that eight-year-old girl.
In discussing the Holocaust and the lecture “Reconsidering Anne Frank” with a work colleague, she told me of a lecture that she attended several years ago.  Seven Generations.  The Native American woman lecturing said that it takes seven generations to heal.



Hanna Löwry  
known as
Joan Caroline Lee, Legreid, Snow (Brandt)

April 21, 1930- May 31, 2015

The family wishes to thank the staff of the Dialysis Unit at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Tacoma for many years of excellent, dedicated care. 

Hanna was born in Eger (Cheb) Czechoslovakia, a German border town.  The family fled to Prague in October, 1938.  When they were no longer safe in Prague, the underground smuggled them to Holland.  Her beloved grandfather, the community leader for the Jewish families of Eger, chose to stay.  He was executed at the Theresienstadt Camp in 1942.  The family entered the United States in 1940, settling in the Los Angeles area.   Hanna Löwry became Joan Lee; a German Lutheran immigrant.   

Joan had a long career in assembly work.  She began in the 1960’s soldering the first generation of circuit boards for leaders in Southern California's growing electronics industry.  Her career took her to the Boeing Everett plant.  When she retired, she moved to Spanaway.  She was known for collecting Teddy Bears and knickknacks, especially Scandinavian folk art. 

Joan had five children; Amanda, John Mark, Patricia, and Kathleen; her son Christopher predeceased her.  Her youngest daughter, Amanda Snow, was her devoted caregiver for many years. She has two grandchildren, Kerrie (John) and Korinne (James).  Her six great grandchildren are Ariana, Sierrarose, Zachary, Alicia, Emily, and Jacob.   

Her wish, shortly before her passing, was to be known as Hanna.

No service is planned per her request. We thank the Tacoma Mausoleum for their arrangements.

Friday, July 12, 2013

KPMS students tell Holocaust stories; enter state contest Featured

Written by   

KPMS Students Tell Holocaust Stories

Holocaust Essay "In a Survivor's Shoes" by SierraRose Nason (Submission to Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center essay contest.)

In a Survivor’s Shoes

By SierraRose Nason, great granddaughter of Hana Lowy, Joan Caroline Lee


Place yourself in a survivor’s shoes. Your heart is twisting in your chest and you are holding your mother’s hand. The Nazis stare down at you with hatred in their eyes. You feel disowned from your own country and even your own life. You start to question yourself, your family, and even your heritage, wondering; “Why was I born a Jew?"
I sit in the living room of my Great Grandmother’s home. My eyes constantly fall on her modestly clothed body, now worn with age. I could not believe that exactly 72 years ago today she had come to America. I settle my notebook in my lap, spilling over a pile of family portraits she had given me to ponder. My pencil is ready to write as I ask, “What is your Holocaust story, Grandma Joan?”
She looks at me with her aged eyes and asked me, “What do you want to know?”
I feel a smile tug on my lips at this moment. I wait a bit, pretending to think it over before I blurt out, “Everything!” She laughs softly, a smile now on her lips too. Once she begins to speak my pencil flies across the paper as her story becomes alive.
☩ ☩ ☩
I never really wanted to leave Eger when my parents told me we would be leaving for Amsterdam, Holland. I knew it would ruin my life. I would have to be stuck with my mother, my brother, and my father. I wouldn’t have my Governess, who I adore and love.
“Why do I have to go?” I cried out, my bottom lip trembling with despair. My Governess, not mother, got to her knees and took my hand.
“My dear, Hana,” She started out as she spoke to me, I could hear the pain in her voice. “It is not safe here anymore for Jews such as you. I am sorry my little Hana... But you must go.” I hated those words that left my German Governess’ mouth. My small arms wounded around her neck.

“Goodbye,” I whispered.
I saw tears in her eyes as she left with her paycheck and her last glance toward me. That was the last time I saw her for years.
Hurry seemed to be the word that day as we got packed to leave. I was told by my mother that the only toy I was allowed to take was my teddy bear. I cried that night, knowing I was to leave everything behind, but I didn’t know they were for other children to have. I did not know we would never come back to retrieve our items, I thought I would be back someday.
That next morning my mother woke me early and I knew I had to leave for Holland. I eyed her and rose slowly from bed, donning my pretty plaid dress and shiny black shoes. I was one of the few Jews who left fast enough to not have to wear the Jewish star.
“Metza... Let us go, we have to.”
I heard my father call to my mother as she sobbed about leaving her good china behind. I hated her for it, her acting as a child, when I had to leave my own cherished toys. I never forgave her for making me leave; I never got to forgive her-- or would have. She took everything away from me. My country, my identity; and my beloved Governess, Julie Grashold. I hated them all and I felt the hate steam in me as we left our beautiful green home, just a few yards from a large fountain that had a man on top with a baton in his hand. I still feel upset for having to leave this beautiful place- Eger, Czechoslovakia. I waved goodbye to our home, the fountain, everything I knew as I was pulled to a cab. I sat in the cushioned seat with tears in my pale blue eyes, my arms crossed over my chest. I wanted to voice my pain as we rode to “Holland.”
Hours later we stopped at a train station and didn’t know which train to board to Holland. We saw a man on a bike and asked him which train was going to there. He looked nervous, as if he knew we were Jews. The man plastered a fake smile onto his lips despite being nervous.
“Oh just go straight, Mister. The train will be that way.”
My father thanked him and we were on our way to that train. I looked back, and saw him turn his head briskly as he carried on with his bike ride. So many obstacles were in the way at this time, so many Jews were leaving. So many cries of children and wives; men, too.
As we were standing in the long line to have our pass checked I turned my head to see an old white haired Jewish woman being kicked and tumbling down the stairs. I was already scared, knowing this, too, could happen to me, a Jew. I swallowed as I stepped forth with my family. We set our papers on the table when we nervously noticed we didn’t have the latest pass; a pink one, not blue. I thought deeply now as my heart rapped against my chest,
...We are going to die. We are going to die...They will see we do not have our pass ...and we will surely die.
A sob caught in my throat as the German soldier reached for our papers. Suddenly, shiny black boots were before me, tightly laced, ankle high. I looked up to see the Gestapo walking toward the steel table, monstrous gun slung over his burly arm. I wanted to scream, I wanted to pray to G-d. I was surprised at this moment as the Officer "tripped,” and our papers flew about.
“They are fine, these Jews. They can board the train. Let them go.” His deep voice cut the cold air like his bright blue eyes, meeting my own as if saying, "You're welcome." I wanted to smile but had no time, as my parents carted me off to my uncertain future.

Finally boarding the train, supposedly on our way to Holland, we soon discovered we were really traveling to Prague. I watched out the window as we rolled away from the home I had lived in for eight years, ever since I was born. We sat on that train for over three hours; scared, hungry and bored.
Finally, we arrived in Prague, Czechoslovakia. We soon learned we weren’t safe here, either. Thankfully, we found the "Underground" ready to help Jews, and obtained train tickets to Münster, Germany.
A few weeks later, we had train tickets in hand to travel out of Prague. Sent to Münster, Germany, Rabbi Florsheim would protect us until the train to Amsterdam arrived. We had missed the first train, making us two hours late.
I shivered in the cold as my Father knocked on the door. For some while, we were alone, out in the cold, waiting. Time was running out and panic was consuming my father since our papers were gone and Gestapo was everywhere. In a panic, he grabbed up some pebbles and hurled them at the Rabbi’s window. Finally, a head poked out of the door.
"Oh, it is you, Fritz Löwy! Louise, and your two children. I thought you were the Gestapo." He chuckled nervously and let us in.
A few days later we left the Rabbi’s home to go to the train station to depart Münster, Germany heading to Amsterdam. Before we left his home, he stopped my parents and spoke to them in whispered tones.
"I have a sister in America named Alice. She has a daughter named Judy. She was married to a German doctor, but he died in a ski accident. So I told her to go to America because she hates snow. I want you to meet her. She will help you when you arrive in America.” My father nodded.
“Good-bye Rabbi Florsheim. May G-d be with you!" my mother called out as we left the home of the Rabbi. Sadly, that was our last time we saw him.
We traveled across all of Europe by train, making our way to Holland. I sat on the train seat and played with my teddy bear alone, not having anyone to talk to, not allowed to. I was scared of what was going on, being as young I was, now ten. We had been on the run for almost two years now, scared and in panic. I was taken away from what I had known and was being tossed into the unknown. I was tumbling down a rabbit's hole, being chased.
The train stopped hours later in Holland and it was time to go. We got off the train, hand in hand and started walking down the crowded streets of Amsterdam. We finally came to the home we were given directions to; a woman named Antonia was supposed to take us in for three weeks before we got on our ship to America.
Those three weeks for me were boring, sitting in an attic where we could not move around much or speak above a whisper, where we could not laugh and were brought food. My mother complained about the soup we were given, the pork. She said we were vegetarians although we were not. At our beautiful green home we had had two cooks, no meat could touch vegetables. We were a strictly kosher family and despised the pork that now floated in our food.
After our three weeks in Amsterdam it was our time to sail to America. I felt a smile stretching onto my lips when I heard we were leaving to America. In later years I had found out we were the very last ship out of Germany, Holland, and anywhere destined to America that was not in danger of being sent back.
One day I decided I would leave the bottom port, where it swayed and was filled with refugees. I wanted to see what it was like outside. I held onto the metal railing as I stumbled up each step, one at a time. The light that hit my face was bright, yellow and warm. I walked across the wooden deck, staring down at my worn black shoes before I looked up and there I saw it; Lady Liberty. My eyes widened with amazement at this beautiful green woman, and her torch of flames. I couldn’t stand seeing it by myself, seeing New York by myself, I just had to share.

We had to change our names; my parents demanded it, my brother also. I didn’t want to but my mother said we had to, we couldn’t let the Gestapo find us. “But why must I change my name, have a middle name?” I cried out with tears in my eyes.
My mother gave me a stern look, her eyes narrowed. “Because you need to. Pick a name and a middle name. Americans have middle names, we are now American.”
I knew there was no argument; no way I could get out of it. Finally I decided on the name Joan Caroline Lee. I was no longer Hana Löwy.
In person I never forgave my mother all these years after she stole away my home. I was meaning to one day but I just never could, I hated her too much. Now I need to, now I will. I will thank her for what she did, thank her for saving me. She threw all she knew away too. She did this for us, for me. She got us to America, to safety.
☩ ☩ ☩
Place yourself in a survivor’s shoes. Life is better now and you are alive. Everyone you hated is gone. You never got to forgive them. Will you forgive them now?
Why did you choose this story, event, or person?
I wrote this story about my Great Grandmother Joan because a story such as hers has not been heard. You hear stories of escapees late in the war and people say those are survivors, so why can’t my Great Grandmother be one too? I wanted my Great Grandmother Joan’s story to be heard but not just by me and my family, but by a whole nation of people. I was really connected with her as she told her story; I was her for a moment of time.
What did you learn from this story, event, or person?
I learned from my Great Grandmother that when a war is going on, killing off your people like flies getting hit by a swatter; you need to hold something close, your family. She didn’t love her family and hated her mother for taking her away from what she knew and loved. She never had the chance to apologize for being difficult for her own mother has long passed, she now knows she has to forgive. One way was to tell me her story, so I can understand family.
Family is important, I learned. Even if you hate them you need to hold them close. Because of my Great Grandmother’s story I hold my family closer. If a war went on now, I know I would be reluctant about leaving, but in the end I would. I learned of forgiveness. Her mother did something dangerous, something she didn’t have to but did, in order to save her daughter’s life. I understand now why my mother is so harsh about things; like being late, not asking before doing things, like not saying where I was or where I am going, is because she loves me. She wants to keep me safe, like Hana’s mother did.
I learned numerous things from my Great Grandmother’s story. Hold yourself close, don’t cry and kick, but hold your family even closer.