KEEPING MY MOTHER'S STORY ALIVE
By Georgina Rosenberg
Growing up as a child of survivors is different to say the least. I, unfortunately, spent a great deal of my early life focused on all the things that made me different from my middle-class Canadian school mates, friends and neighbors.
After all, we are different.
There is no denying that. How can we not be different from those that didn’t endure the Holocaust? Only now, as an adult, can I remotely understand what a great job my parents did raising two daughters in a new country after the horror they suffered.
This is my mother, Suri Wiesel Rosenberg’s story, and the impact it has had on my life.
While most kids are tucked in at night with bedtime stories, my stories were very often my mother's childhood memories of the Holocaust.
Although I did get bedtime stories too, I often heard about my mother’s childhood, the worst childhood any human can endure. For some reason, she felt the need to talk about war time rather than her life before. Perhaps she couldn’t remember earlier. Bottom line is that through this horrific experience, my mother ultimately had positively influenced me.
At the age of approximately 12, my mother’s family was rounded up from a small town in Romania. As a child, I’m certain my mother was oblivious and had no idea what lay ahead – no one did.
They spent days on cramped trains (“like sardines” she would say), without water, food or a toilet. Once they arrived at their destination, my mother stood on the platform with her parents and 6 other siblings. She recounted time and time again about that moment on that platform where the women were pushed to one side and the men to another.
If only she could have spent her time with her mother and female siblings. No they too were ripped away from her, she was taken away with her older sister Bina. My mother never saw her parents and three siblings again. They weren’t prepared and never said goodbye. That in itself is something I can’t imagine. I fortunately did have the opportunity to say goodbye to my parents and most recently my sister. My mother told me that story so many times, as though it was a form of therapy for her to recount it.
Through my mother’s years moving from camp to camp, ultimately ending at Auschwitz, she told me stories of hunger, of being fed soup (which really was just dirty water) and bread and how her sister would share her tiny ration of bread with her.
That’s what big sisters do.
She talked about the long marches they were made to do in winter weather in wooden shoes and no socks. She told me about the people she saw the Nazis shoot and throw into the ditches or the river. She told me about having her head shaved, and how she was so lucky that she looked older than her 12 years.
Looking older is what saved my mother’s life. Because of that, my mother was put to work in an airplane parts factory and was useful to the Nazi’s. She spoke about Mengele, however, I chose to ignore this part of the story. Even as a youngster, I knew to associate Mengele with atrocious and unspeakable things.
Much happened in the time my mother was in concentration camps, most of which I’m sure she never spoke about again. In May of 1945 she was liberated from Auschwitz. She was fortunate to have been reunited by the Red Cross with her sister and two brothers. Of course, she never saw her parents and three other siblings and many aunts, uncles, cousins and friends ever again.
While many Jewish Canadians had big families to speak of while I was growing up, mine was tiny – thank you Hitler!!!
She returned to Romania still a child but now a broken one. She recalled going back to her house where every item was stolen (including the house) by the Nazi’s. They had absolutely nothing left of their belongings not a dirty pair of socks let alone a picture. I’ve never seen a picture of my grandparents.
My mother’s brother and sister left for Palestine soon thereafter and left my mother with her oldest brother David who raised her. I don’t know much of how or what happened in those years immediately after other than I have heard that my mother had serious anxiety during her teen years – no surprise there.
At about 26 she was set up with my father (who was a slave laborer for a couple of years and lost his middle brother Joseph Rosenberg in Auschwitz) and they married in 1957.
They married late, had my sister and decided in order to get away from the horrible memories of their past and give their daughter and any future children a Jewish Life, they would have to leave their family, home, business, money, jewelry and even their housekeeper – they had a pretty nice life.
I’m so proud that even though they were persecuted and lost so much, they wanted to remain traditional Jews and raise Jewish children. So many Eastern Europeans either converted or never admitted again that they were Jewish. I’m so proud of them for remaining traditional and continuing to believe in G-d.
My parents made it to Canada via Rome where they lived in the Jewish Ghetto. Their choice was Canada where my father’s aunt and cousins lived or Israel where my mother’s brothers and sister lived. Canada won and my mother found herself in a new country, without the language, a newborn baby (that’s me - I was born 8 months after they arrived) and no family or friends of her own. How lonely.
They lived with my great aunt until my father found a job as a butcher in downtown Toronto. They were set off on their own only a few months later to figure out their lives, no financial help whatsoever.
Fast forward many years, my parents raised two children, were determined to keep their Jewish identity and practice Jewish traditions, lived a middle class life, made friends, traveled, made their house a home, encouraged us to live life, travel and be curious about the world. They accepted us however or whatever path we chose. My parents sacrificed everything for the sake of their children.
Even with my mother’s difficult life, she wasn’t a “typical” survivor (at least not later in life when she was a mother). She wasn’t afraid of anything, she did not show signs of anxiety, encouraged risk taking, she was fun and hip and full of energy and life. Did I mention she was beautiful, classy, smart, hardworking, courageous and so much more?
I have no idea how she didn’t display typical negative characteristics of survivors.
She encouraged me to be curious, live, laugh, enjoy, work hard, have dreams. It’s because of my mother’s enduring determination and the example she lived, that I know that no matter what hardship falls upon me, I will prevail – I will survive.
Of course there have been some real difficulties during my life and I have had some big losses. Most recently my partner’s family had a suicide and soon thereafter we lived through the sudden illness and death of my sister. There were days when I didn’t know how we could possibly get through it all but my mother taught me that no matter what you face, we have strength and we can get through anything.
We are resilient and she proved that to me. If she could get through the Holocaust and Auschwitz, I can get through anything. My mother came around the other side of tragedy as a kind, generous, warm and caring woman.
When I’m having a hard time, I still need and want my mother. No matter what, she always made me confident that it will all be ok. After all, her life was OK. She died too soon. I wish she was still here to say “Georgie, it will all be OK” because when my mother said that, it was OK.
Now if I could only muster up the courage to go to Auschwitz to walk in her footsteps...
*I only remember some of what I heard or I choose to only remember. I’m certain that my mother saw and experienced things she didn’t share with me or in her videos for the Shoah Foundation. Those secrets died with her. This is my memory of what she shared with me and most importantly what impact those words made.