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.