MotherShe 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.