Voices from the Past

My grandparents, Russian immigrants who escaped the pogroms at the beginning of the last century, made their way to America, met, married and raised a family there, were already elderly by the time I arrived and never really talked about what life was like in Russia. First of all because they didn’t want to talk about their previous life in Russia (they were both teenagers when they arrived in the US) and second I was too young to know enough to ask them.

Fast forward to high school and my closest friend. Her parents were both Holocaust survivors and I remember sitting on their living room couch, listening to my friend’s father recall how he and many others with him had jumped from a transit train bringing them to Sobibor and despite having been shot and left for dead, he survived. Although my friend’s father passed away a couple of years ago (z”l), his and his wife’s testimonies can still be heard online at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Scroll down the page to “Mastbaum”. In spite of the poor sound quality (it was recorded in 1983), their interviews are interesting not only because of their holocaust experiences, but also their recalling of what life was like in Poland before WWII. My 81 year-old Polish born mother-in-law still can’t talk about her experiences.

At 10:00 a.m. this morning, as a siren wails, we as a country will stand for a minute’s silence remembering those that died in the Holocaust. May their memories be blessed.


(Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on flickr.)

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6 thoughts on “Voices from the Past

  1. Yes, may they be blessed, I read Ann Frank’s diary at 12 years old, it really affected how I think of people, they are the same in every culture, they have the same hopes and dreams and aspirations, And I do love Jewish people.

  2. I would like to know about the languages in Israel or indeed in Jewish families like yours. I read Golda Meir’s book and in her time immigrants were trying to learn Hebrew. Was that successful? I mean, can you talk Hebrew to almost anybody at a shop, at an ice cream stand, on a children’s playground? And so, would there be people speaking Hebrew with a Russian intonation or Hebrew with an American drawl ?

  3. @ gentledove-so true but not believed by the many.

    @cantueso-there are three official languages in Israel: Hebrew, Arabic and English, which make road signs all the more interesting. Unofficially, there are many more. About having an American accent in Hebrew, my bank has stopped asking me for my bank code when I call them, because the minute I say “hello” they know it’s me. :)

  4. My grandfather was from the Ukraine and grandmother (z”l) was from Latvia, they moved here (America) in the beginning of the last century and married. They never talked about life in Europe, and they left before H-tler and St-lin.

  5. Jennifer,

    I can’t believe I came across this posting while googling your name; I never knew my parents’ testimonies were deposited at the U of M center; they never told me. I was meant to come across this entry and will share it with family members.

  6. Oh Irene, you have absolutely NO idea how flabbergasted I am right now reading your comment. I’m thrilled that you found this entry and your folk’s testimonies.

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