Shared Joy is Twice the Joy, Shared Pain is Half the Pain

Posts tagged “family

Puppies and Winter

It is currently January, and I am sitting on a big comfy chair in front of the window with a cup of tea and some music and I’m watching the snow fall and the puppies play in the park across the street where we just built this snowman:

DSC_0123(*Side note, as I sit here and watch people take photos with this little guy, I can’t help but revel in the happiness that snowmen spread. It makes me smile!*)

And even though I should probably be doing my homework, I’m loving winter, which is my favorite season (until the snow melts and the flowers bloom, then I’ll be head over heels in love with spring). So I thought I’d share some photos that I’ve collected over the past month or so.

First up: (surrogate) family photos from the snowman-making process. We kinda like each other.

We also love puppies, and thoroughly enjoyed playing with these beautiful dogs, Milo and Galaxy, who live just down the street. (Galaxy, with the gorgeous blue eyes, is both deaf and mostly blind.)

In case you weren’t sure that both Boston and Lake Tahoe are beautiful places to live, here is the Charles River, mostly frozen, and Lake Tahoe, mostly gorgeous.

Last month, after Christmas but before it actually decided to snow in Tahoe, Robby and I went for a walk around the lake and ran into these beautiful puppies

Also, can we talk about the fact that my baby brother isn’t such a baby anymore? It is very clear that he is past little boy stage too, and living on the cusp of manhood.

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Five Photos, Five Stories

Stanford Sierra Camp runs Saturday to Saturday, and is filled from start to finish with lots of fun experiences. (I wrote about camp last year here, here, and here.) I promised that I would write more about camp, so I’m going to write five stories here. I’m picking my stories by picking the photos to accompany them. These are my five favorite photos from camp, and five resultant stories:

DSC_02881. Campfire.

Every Wednesday evening is the conclusion of Beach Day – a campfire complete with camp songs and s’mores. Let’s be honest here, most of my favorite songs ever are the songs we sing at the campfire every year, and I love love love the opportunity to sit on the beach, stare out over the lake, and watch the sun set to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon and Wagon Wheel. And we obviously always finish with I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane.

I took this photo at the end of campfire, of a marshmallow my dad had roasted, with the lake and sunset in the background. The s’more that came out of that marshmallow was fabulous, by the way.

DSC_01792. Camp hair.

All the SSC counselors are Stanford undergrad students, which means that I am exactly the right age to be a counselor. Combine that with the reality that a) I’ve been going to camp for years and years and know my way around and b) I like kids, and you can understand why kids think I’m a counselor and consequently ask me all sorts of questions. Over the course of the week, I got asked where to put dirty glasses between meals, whether or not the fountain was open, where specific kids’ groups met, etc. etc. It also meant that they didn’t question if I wanted to take pictures of them, because they just assumed I was one of the staff photographers. (Oops?)

When I was growing up, my hair was all over the place. Lots of fly-aways, lots of tangles. Lots of all the things we try to limit as we get a bit older. And being at camp is no different; for the first couple days of camp I tried to keep the fly-aways, well, away. And then I just gave up. My brother tried to tease me about it by saying “You look like a counselor!” I had the camp-y hair, the casual shorts and t-shirt so common around camp, and the dark tan of a few days/weeks in the sun. But the thing is, camp hair, and being compared to a counselor, is maybe the best thing that you could ever call me.

This girl was on the ski dock with a bunch of her friends, fishing for crawdads, as is traditional at Camp. I love the parallel between her frizzies and the fraying rope.

DSC_00773. Wildlife.

Camp is a bit outside the city, which means that there are birds, squirrels, and the occasional bear. Honestly, there isn’t actually that much wildlife, but the wildlife we do get to see is wonderful. And the trees are amazing, and the stars are soooo bright, and generally, nature is beautiful. That’s it, I guess. Ducks!

There are a lot of floating docks around camp, and this duck was chilling out on one just behind my family’s cabin at the edge of camp. I’m not sure what it was looking at, but I kinda wish I knew…

DSC_01054. Family.

At its heart, Stanford Sierra Camp is a family camp. As kids grow up, they tend to abandon their families at home, but somehow they come back at SSC. We sleep in a little cabin together, we eat dinner together (sometimes), we eat breakfast together (often), we do crafts together, go sailing together, go hiking together, throw eggs at each other…

These guys were waiting for Mom before they walked back from Beach Day, which thoroughly exhausted the youngest. She was nearly asleep, until her big sister gave her a kiss on the top of her head; then her eyes popped open and looked right at me.

DSC_00605. The Plunge.

A week 4 tradition, The Plunge is a little bit like a Polar Bear Swim, if you know what that is… Long story short, everyone wakes up and heads down to the lake at 7:30 Friday morning. 200+ people jump into the lake at once (more or less) and then yell out “Oooh! That’s cold” before racing out of the lake as fast as physically possible. This year, we beat our record once again (last year was 222, this year was 234). But my favorite part of The Plunge was a more personal moment. I jumped in, and was freezing cold, ready to hop out. But I looked up onto the dock, and a little girl – maybe 9? – was standing there, too scared to jump in herself. So I stayed there, treading water, and held my arms up to her, much like you would to a little kid climbing out of a tree. I told her I’d be there and help her get out of the water, and her dad would be up on the dock to help her too. And she jumped! Right in front of me, and she was holding on before her head had even come back up out of the water. It was just a little thing, and I don’t even know her name. But her dad found me later and thanked me for helping his daughter conquer her fear of the water – apparently that was the only time she jumped in the lake all week. Although I don’t blame her; it’s pretty cold!

If you head to the lake early enough in the morning (before The Plunge, of course), the lake is actually pretty smooth. This is when guests go rowing, and when staph go water skiing. (Yes, the Stanford-educated staphers fail to spell their own title correctly. Also, the people who make our meals work in the Chicken. Don’t ask.) But this is when I get some cool photos of the lake, like this one of the ladder to get back onto the boat dock.

 


It Hit Me Somewhere Over Greenland

I’m a bit more than a bit delayed in posting this. My sincere apologies; we’ll blame it on jet lag?


It hit me somewhere over Greenland. All of a sudden, I looked out the window and I started to cry. Honestly, I’m a little surprised the crying didn’t start as soon as the plane took off in Prague, but it could just be that I fell asleep.

It hit me that I was leaving. No, that I was gone.

That everything that has happened for the last nine months was over. That the family I had been living with was no longer my family, and that the kids I watched grow up every single day would keep growing up. That next time I see them, it will be in one, two, five, ten, who knows how many years, and they will be completely different.

That they will come home tonight (well, I suppose they’ve already gotten home, at this point) and they will realize that I’m not there. Because even though we explained to them, and I think Emma understood, I know Jachym had no idea. He saw my bags, but I’ve packed before. I went to France, and I went to Turkey, and I went to Italy, and every time I had a bag. Every time he watched me throw clothes all over my room and fold them and pack them and unpack them and refold them and repack them. And all of that happened again. Sure, this was the first time everything was getting packed, but what does that really mean to a four year old? I dropped him off at preschool today.

It will be the last time I ever do that.

I braided Emma’s hair this morning, and it’ll be the last time I ever do that. By the time I get back, she’ll have grown out of the desire to have someone do her hair every morning, or maybe she’ll have learned how to French braid her own hair.

I said goodbye to Filip yesterday like I do every morning, just a simple “Ahoj!” as I headed out the door. I didn’t know he was going on another business trip to Moscow, or that I wouldn’t see him again before I hopped on a plane. At least I got to say a proper goodbye to Anna. But how do you say a proper goodbye to someone who opened her home and her kitchen to you for nine months? How can you possibly thank her properly.

And I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone at CIEE. I didn’t even see Veronika, who was the most stable, most helpful person I met over the entire nine months. She saw every single one of my breakdowns while I was in Prague – she is the only person who saw any of my breakdowns while I was in Prague. She may, in fact, have seen as many of my breakdowns as my mother has in my whole life. (Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – I’ve had more than a couple breakdowns with my mom.)

But Veronika also went out for beer with me and went to the theater with me and is front and center of all my favorite lunches in Prague. She was the one I sent postcards when I went on vacation from my vacation, and she was the one I came to see when I got back. Needless to say, Veronika was a big part of my time in Prague and I didn’t even get to give her a hug goodbye.

Nor did I get to say goodbye to Martina. My very best Czech friend, even though she’s actually Slovak. We went our separate ways on Friday, with the expectation of hanging out Saturday night. But life intervened, and here I am. On a plane over Greenland, and I never said goodbye.

I tried telling Holly that it doesn’t matter. That you don’t have to say goodbye to everyone that mattered to you. If they were important to you over the time you were in Prague, then they know that. You’ll stay in touch, and that last goodbye won’t make or break the relationship you remember, or the relationship you’ll have in the future. And even if I think that’s true (and I don’t necessarily think that’s true), it doesn’t change the fact that it sucks to leave without saying goodbye.

At least I got to say goodbye to the city. I got to take a last wander through the streets, to smile at the tourists lost or drunk or simply confused by the mazes, to take a final walk along the river with my camera, to take a few final pictures of the castle I saw at least twice a day on my way to and from school.

I liked living in a city with a castle. That hit me somewhere over Greenland too.

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My Forum Interview

Last week, I had an interview that was supposed to last 15-20 minutes. Instead, it lasted almost 45. I was interviewed by Irene Noguchi, one of the producers on KQED’s Forum.

Perhaps it was a result of her time conducting interviews both on and off air, but she asked me some of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. Not only that, but she saw things in me through my resume that I hadn’t even put together about myself.

Preceding the interview, she asked me to put together three pitches for three story ideas for Forum, which was both more fun and more challenging than I expected it to be. But she said they were very thorough and impressively detailed, so that’s good. One of my pitches was about the robots and science in the search for lost planes, specifically the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 still missing somewhere in the Indian Ocean, one was about the company Pley, renting toys, and the importance of playing with new toys for children’s’ development, and the third was about the sad lack of international authors translated into English.

As we were talking, Ms. Noguchi asked me why I had traveled to Prague, and what I was getting out of my experience. It was a question I was expecting; in fact, in my internship course just last week, we had mock interviews, and every single person got asked this question. When I answered it in class, I talked about my personal connection to Prague, the fact that my dad spent hours, days, weeks, with Babi translating documents from Czech after Deda died, and my worry that no-one in my family will be able to do that when the inevitable happens and Babi passes on too. In class, my teacher and classmates suggest I not talk about it. Use the question to express your interest in seeing the world, in learning about a new culture; answer every question honestly, but spin every answer to market some aspect of yourself. When Ms. Noguchi asked me that same question, I ignored all the advice, and answered it the same way I’d answered it in class. Instead of being put off by such a personal answer, she nonchalantly said, “So you’re the family historian.”

I’d never thought of it that way. I don’t think I have that much interest in family history, really. We have a family tree of Babi’s side framed in her house, and I know I’ve always been fascinated by it. I love hearing the stories of the past and of all our relatives, but I can never remember them. Isn’t remembering an innate part of being a historian? So I didn’t really think of myself as a family historian, but since that interview, I think it might be an accurate description. I mean, look at this blog. As much of what I’ve written about Prague has been about my search for my family’s history as it has been about anything else. Maybe it is a role I’m stepping into, one step, one story, at a time?

Regardless, the next thing Ms. Noguchi said hit me as telling: “That’s good. Everyone in radio, I think, is attracted to the story, whatever it is.” And we moved on.

A bit later, she said something else that I maybe could have predicted, but also hadn’t really put together. She asked another question, phrased as if it was something obvious. “I see a robots theme here on your resume. Research at Tufts, the Girl Scouts Robotics team.” She interrupted herself. “I didn’t even know the Girl Scouts had a robotics team. And then one of your pitches was about robots. Tell me about this theme.”

My answer to this question isn’t really all that relevant, but I did find it interesting. I don’t think I’m as into robots as I used to be; I’m not on robotics teams anymore, at least. But I still find them fascinating. I read pretty much every article about robots I come across, and I write about them too! Maybe I’m more into robots than I thought, and it just took a single, well-thought out question to show me that.

I hope that, among all the things I get to do this summer, I can learn to ask the type of questions Ms. Noguchi asked me. I hope that I can learn from her, from the other Forum producer Judy Campbell, editor Dan Zoll, and of course host Michael Krasny, to ask the right questions to get the interesting answers.

Because about two days after our interview, I got the email everyone wants when they’re applying for a job. Starting in less than 4 weeks, I’ll be working on KQED’s Forum as an intern, helping to pick and research show topics and guests, to screen callers, and to put the ten hours of fascinating content I’ve listened to for as long as I remember on air.

I’m super excited for this opportunity, and I want to take a second to thank Emily Sena and her friend Erika Kelly for helping me even get an interview. I know from experience that getting the interview is the hard part, so I’m eternally grateful to these two. (Get networking, kids! It is totally worth it!)

I know that the very first thing I’m going to do when I meet Michael Krasny is ask him two questions: How many books do you read a week? How? Because it is clear from his interviews with authors that he reads every book he talks about on air, and obviously dozens on top of that. So I want to learn his secret…

I think it is safe to say that the reality of the awesomeness of this hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m going to working on a nationally aired news program on NPR. Based on things I’ve read (including this blog by a Stanford student who interned on Forum, and this interview of Forum editor Dan Zoll) I know that this is going to be an amazing internship, where I will get real responsibilities from Day 1, get to meet amazing people from all walks of life, and hopefully find a career I love (either radio, or something else that one of the hundreds of guests I’ll interact with does…). Regardless, I’m very excited for what this summer holds in store for me, and I’ll make sure to keep everyone updated as the summer progresses!

And if you’ve got any questions you want me to pose to anyone on the Forum staff, or others who work for KQED, sound off below and I’ll see what I can do!


Some Sort of Story

This story starts about a week ago, with this picture:

Actually, it’s a picture of a picture. My dad emailed it to me, with a request that I go find the grave and see what it looks like today. In a city filled with cemeteries, he was kind enough to give me a plot number and the cemetery I’d find it in: Olšansky Hřibitov. A quick google search took me to a Wikipedia page, which told me I’d find approximately 65,000 graves there. Good thing I had a plot number. So I found a map of the cemetery online, looked for the spot I’d find my ancestors, and came up empty. Well, not empty, actually. I found three possibilities, each a ½ mile apart. In addition, I found a “find-the-grave-site” site, claiming my family could be found at a completely different plot number. So was it 20-4-18 or 2ob-16-82oh? I now had four possibilities and a headache. But I was done with classes, and it was only mid-afternoon, so I prepared for my 45 minute metro journey, stopping to buy flowers on the way.

When I said this story started a week ago, I lied. It actually started 6 years ago, when my grandparents brought us all on a family trip to Prague. (Okay, it actually started 100-ish years ago when my relatives died, but we’re talking about my part in this story.)

There are only a handful of moments I really remember from that trip. I mean remember – smells, sounds, everything. Our trip to the cemetery was one of them. I remembered the gravel paths and the ivy-covered headstones and the ornamental gate. I remember that we showed up too late in the day to get in, but Babi and Deda convinced them to let us in anyway. Not a big picture, to be sure, but enough details to know that where I was was wrong:

Sure, the paths could have been paved in the last half decade, and certainly things change everyday, even in a cemetery. But Olšansky hřibitov was too colorful, too big, and felt too new. Nonetheless, I wandered through for hours, checking off one possible spot after the next. With no luck. No Voticky. No ivy. Nope.

I came out the other side of the cemetery, unsure of what to do. I didn’t want to disappoint my dad and send him the email, “I couldn’t find it.” But more than that, I didn’t want to lose that spot. Deda isn’t going to be telling us where to find it – Babi is too old to get back to Prague. A big reason I came to Prague was to preserve, at least for one more generation, my family’s history.  Something unspoken pulled me to Prague this year, and the same thing told me to keep looking. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there. The New Jewish Cemetery, just across the street from Olšansky, had the ornamental gate I remember and, even more promisingly, it was closed. When I looked through the gate, and saw the trees covered in ivy, the grounds covered in ivy, the graves covered in ivy, I knew it was the right spot.

Actually, that’s not how it happened at all. As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw the metro stop Želivského. I recognized it right away. Like a puzzle piece I didn’t know what missing, that image fit right in. All of a sudden, I remembered being 14 years old, coming out of that metro station, looking around, and being absolutely convinced the long trip had not been worth it. (To my 14-year-old self, this turned out to be true. To my 20-year-old self, not true.) Then, I looked through the gate, saw the gravel path and the ivy covered stones, and knew I’d found the right place. Of course, at this point, I was a little cold, a lot hungry, and tired of carrying those damn tulips around. Plus, the gates were shut, the lady locking them as I showed up. I know enough Czech to know she told me “the cemetery is closed.” But I don’t speak enough Czech to beg her to let us in. All I could do was look at the flowers in my hand, at the watch on my wrist, and at the back of her head as she walked away. It was like déjà vu, but with a different ending. So I went home.

This story ends today. Or at least, that’s what happens for now. I don’t have classes on Thursdays, so I left the house this morning and went back across town, once again stopping for flowers on the way. This time, I knew where I was going, it would be a cinch. The cemetery was open; I found the section easily. But the rows? Where did they start? Which one was one? And which plot in each row was the first? I quickly realized that, once again, I had 4 options. So I walked up and down, reading name after name, feeling more disheartened each moment. I was ready to give up, and then I realized, I remembered.

I said earlier that this moment was one of the few I really remembered. So I let my memory tell me where to go. I retraced the steps we had taken oh, so long ago, with Babi leaning on my arm, Deda leading the way. I followed my memory to the end of the section, followed us as we turned left up the rows. I stopped, as we had once stopped, about halfway up. I walked down the row, looking to my right. The grave wasn’t far in, that I knew. And there it is. Success.

Unsurprisingly, the grave has withstood the test of time.

They tend to do that.

As I sit here, having laid my rock and flowers before my ancestors, I think I’ve found my favorite place in Prague. Years ago, Mom told me her favorite study spot was a cemetery near her apartment, and I thought she was crazy. But sitting her, I kind of understand. It’s quiet. I hear the birds in the trees and the crunching of leaves whenever I take a step. If I try, I can hear the distinctive squeal of the trams as they round the corner – the same corner I walked around when I knew where I was. I can hear other people; there aren’t many. But Franz Kafka’s grave is just over there, and Arnost Lustig, who died only two years ago, is buried here too. There is something incredible about the way things work in here. Most of these graves were first dug about 100 years ago, as Jewish soldiers died in WWI. Some, of course, are much older. But almost every one has the extra names of family members killed during the Holocaust. Just names, no dates. But the ivy and the trees don’t care. They grow over every plot: new, old, and in between. The test of time knocks some headstones over, but most survive. The living come here to pay their respects, but the real life in a place like this is what we can’t see. Except in time. The plants that prosper, the memories that survive, the ghosts that I hear in the whisper of the wind. Today is a cloudy day, dreary. But sitting here, with the family I never met, I feel like the clouds are just there. There is nothing ominous about the white sky I look up at. Somehow it seems that blue sky wouldn’t really fit the day – today is all about greens and greys.

(It may surprise some readers that there is nothing in this post about the names on the bottom of this stone. I couldn’t possibly write about all that again, especially since I’m going back to Terezin tomorrow. If you want to read about it, check out my post about my last trip to Terezin here.)


Family, meet Family, meet Family

My family came from San Francisco to visit me for Thanksgiving because my brother had the whole week off of school. We did all sorts of cool and exciting things, including (but not limited to) a tour of a Bohemian glass factory, a tour of Kutna Hora, some wandering through the streets, some hot chocolate (Robby) and mulled wine (Mom), and some nice meals.

My parents helped me cook the turkey for CIEE’s Homestay Thanksgiving meal, which meant that they got to come home and see where I’m living this year here in Prague. It was funny, because Anna was annoyed that I hadn’t told her that my parents were coming so she could clean up, but seriously, the flat in its messiest state merely resembles our house back in San Mateo. The kids were a bit shy with new people around, and were clearly confused by my dad’s attempts to speak the little amount of Czech he knows with them. Interestingly, they glommed onto me as if I was leaving – which does not bode well for when I actually leave, but that is an issue for a few months from now.

It was really fun, though, and I’m really glad they got to meet each other, even if only for a little bit. And I couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce them: “Family, meet my family. Family, meet my family.” Both families know the others’ names, so real introductions weren’t actually necessary.

On Wednesday night, we went out to dinner with our family. By “we,” I mean my nuclear family – Mom, Dad, Robby, myself. By “our family,” I mean our Czech relatives. We had no idea how many people were coming, and it ended up being a lot. I think there were 17 of us, but I didn’t actually count. It was a lot of fun, because everyone else spoke English, but they all wanted me to try to speak Czech. (Okay, it was fun, but also very difficult.) At one point, Bozka (our 90+ matriarch) told me to say something in Czech. I didn’t really know what to say, just like I never knew what to say when people said “Say something in Japanese.” So I said something silly about how my Czech class’s favorite thing to say is “Proč ne?” (Why not?). It made everyone laugh – I guess I speak well enough to be understood…

I got to listen to a lot of conversations going on around me in Czech and understood a few bits and pieces here and there, which bodes well for my long-term linguistic capabilities. I also got to meet a lot of my relatives, who are actually really fun to be around. Well, some of them. The ones that are closer to my age – in their 20’s, 30’s, and younger 40’s. The ones closer to my dad’s age aren’t quite as much fun, but it is still nice to have met them, to have gotten their email addresses. I got invited to Christmas dinner at one’s house, Dec. 26’s “traditional turkey dinner” at another, and told to call anytime I’m near Old Town Square and want to stop by for a cup of coffee. (I’m near Old Town Square pretty much every day…)

Look for more posts about my family’s visit to Prague shortly, but for now, everyone should know that I’m really glad they came and all my families were able to meet each other.


Terezin

To write this post, I really have to start a few years ago: the last time I was in Prague. My grandparents brought our whole family here to explore the city they had been born in, to learn a bit of the family history, to visit Europe, and to have a fun family vacation. Although I was old enough to understand some of why we came, I think I missed a lot of the family history they wanted to share with us, and that is one of the many many reasons I decided to come to Prague.

When we were here, we went all over the city, visiting typical tourist spots, but also Babi’s high school and the house Deda was born in and the park they both played in. We also visited the Pinkas Synagogue, which is famous for the names written on the walls. Not just any names, but names of the 80,000 Czech Jews lost during the war. The Synagogue is dedicated to these people whose lives were lost. Some were lost in the sense that they were killed; some were lost in the sense that the last written record of them are the Nazi deportation lists these names are copied off of. I remember the wall of Prague Jews, the red last names and the gold stars separating families. And I remember Deda standing there, staring at the wall for what seemed like an eternity. I remember the single tear that rolled down his cheek before he hustled us out, saying we’d spent enough time with him showing us around the city, and that we deserved an ice cream.

My grandparents said that they’d always wanted to take the family to Prague and had just been waiting for all us grandkids to be old enough. Maybe that was true. But I can’t help but think that they knew they were reaching the end of their ability to travel across the ocean. They were old enough that crossing the city was a long, slow process, but they were determined to share some history with us. I respect them immensely for that. But I also realize that I witnessed something unique that day. Not just the tear, though it was the only tear I’ve ever seen on Deda’s face. But also that I got to see the last time my grandfather ever visited his mother and brother. Because, when there is no body to be buried, the closest thing family gets to a grave is the name written on the wall in memorandum.

Back to present day. My Jewish history class took a trip to Lidice and Terezin. Lidice is the town completely destroyed by the Nazis in revenge for the assassination by Czechs of SS Officer Heidrich. The Nazis killed every man, and sent every woman and child to concentration camps. They bombed and burned the town to the ground, and even dug up every body in the cemetery. Not a single Jew lived in the town. Terezin is the fortress town the Nazis turned into a Jewish ghetto/concentration camp/transport camp. Nearly every Czech Jew was sent through Terezin on his way to concentration and work camps.

Needless to say, it was an emotional day for everyone that went. Its hard to face the reality of what happened. Even when you know the facts, the emotion of actually being there always hits harder than you expect.

Ever since the aforementioned trip to the Pinkas Synagogue a few years ago, I’ve always looked for my grandfather’s immediate family’s names in lists of names. It doesn’t matter where I am. (even if the list has nothing to do with the Holocaust, I look at the names.) And, honestly, I’ve stopped expecting to see any names I know.

We were walking around a museum in Terezin, filled with stories and pictures the kids drew while they lived in the town. Parents and other adults did the best they could to make life in Terezin as normal as possible, giving children an education and the ability to express themselves and a soccer field to play on when they had the strength. I walked into another room, and am surrounded on all four sides by off-white walls covered in names and dates. The names of children sent to Terezin and their birthdates.

Like any other list, I scan for the names. Like any other list, I expect to see absolutely nothing.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Knocked the wind right out of me, and I literally doubled over. There it was, the name I’d been always looking for but desperately hoping to never see. I was sliding down the wall, gasping for breath, and I heard a comforting voice, but I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t care and I couldn’t think.

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The next five minutes are a blur. I don’t know what anyone said, I don’t know what really happened. Then we were watching a propaganda movie filmed by the Nazis near the end of the war, as an attempt to convince the Allies that the camps were good for the Jews. There were young boys playing soccer, watering plants in the garden, reading books, playing cards.

May 31, 1928.

He was somewhere around 13, 14, 15 years old when he is in Terezin.

The Rabbi says children were sent at age 14 to Auschwitz; children under 16 were killed upon arrival. Was this his fate?

Young boys of that age were involved in producing plays and publishing magazines filled with poems and stories and drawings. Did he help with one of the many magazines we have seen over the course of the days, on walls of museums?

The able bodied were forced to do hard labor – digging trenches to redirect the river, building Nazi weaponry in underground mines, digging mass graves for their friends and family. Is this how he finished his life?

Thousands of men, women, and children never made it out of Terezin because of the deplorable living conditions and high disease rates?Did he die in his mother’s arms? His father’s? Did they die in his arms?

Did they ever see each other in Terezin?

A few hundred children survived. A tree stands in the Terezin cemetery where the descendants of these children meet annually. We don’t actually know what happened. Would I find distant relatives of mine there?

Since our trip to Terezin, our class has had the opportunity to listen to two Holocaust survivors. One, Pavel Stransky, defied fate multiple times and managed to survive for almost three years in Auschwitz. Both he and the artist Helga Weiss-Hošková went through Terezin. Both survivors had phenomenal stories. They were, quite simply, lucky to survive – neither could truly explain why or how it happened. It seemed, honestly, like neither had even managed to figure out why they had been allowed to live while their friends and family survived. And both told their stories as if it wasn’t something that had actually happened to them, as if they had no personal experience with it at all. I can only assume that they have put their emotions in a box, separate from their memories, in order to share their memories and stories with us.

And yet, somehow, I am hit by the emotion of it while they sit stoic. It is as if they have passed the emotion onwards, in order that the next generation may remember. In fact, Pavel explicitly said that his main job now, as a survivor, is to pass his story on to the next generation so that the stories and memories may live on forever in our collective memory. I only wish that my grandfather could have added his story too. I don’t even know if he knew the story himself; it is possible that he never found out at all.

And even if I do find out someday, I know there is no way to really understand what my family went through. The reality of the history of the Holocaust is incomprehensible, but I know that it is a part of my history that I know nothing about. I don’t know if I want to know, and that’s an issue I’m going to be struggling with for at least the next few months; maybe the rest of my life.