Remnants of Memory

My father left me at my aunt’s house, where my mother would meet me later in the day.  She had found a new apartment, one within walking distance of my aunt’s and so, during the day, when she was working at a new job, I walked over to my Aunt Paula’s and stayed there. After a couple of days, food became available, particularly canned food, possibly surplus British Army rations.  From one of these cans I was introduced to the delights of Spam, and I don’t mean that as a joke.  It was delicious, particularly as I hadn’t had any ham for three years, and this canned meat began making up for some of the lost time.  There was, however, a small problem with it.  Most unpleasantly, I developed food poisoning, probably caused by the Spam.  I got over it, and life returned to normal.  What that meant was that we were no longer being hunted, although the family was now considerably smaller.

Because my aunt was nearly always home, it became a gathering place for those who had survived.  There must have been men in the group of survivors, but I don’t remember any.  The women often spoke other languages, such as Hungarian and Polish.  My aunt normally spoke only German.  The language they all had in common was Yiddish, and so they sat in a circle in my aunt’s apartment, discussing who had died and where, and who had survived and where they might be.  Since they spoke in Yiddish, I developed a working knowledge of that language, although I never spoke it well and sadly must report, that except for a few cuss words, I have completely forgotten it.

These conversations between survivors served a vital purpose at the time, that of sharing information about where lists of survivors of the concentration camps could be found, and where the people they knew and loved, if alive, might be located  There was also a need to contact agencies for help with a variety of problems, from the placement of orphans to help securing employment.  For our family, this was important because we now had three orphans to be placed.   Aunt Paula couldn’t take her grandchildren because she had Lily to take care of, and my mother couldn’t take my cousins because she had me, and limited means of support, and that was all that was left of our family.

Homes were eventually found for all of them.  Irene was adopted by distant relatives living in America, Robert, her brother, somehow disappeared and there were rumors later that he was in Spain.  Norbert, who was not a relative, but was a friend who was with us in the Couvent St. Joseph was adopted by a Canadian family, while Fella Flamberg rejoined her mother, who had also survived, and both sailed to New York, where Mike Flamberg, husband and father, had established a dry cleaning store in the Bronx.  As for my cousin Wolfgang (“Marcel”, the former altar boy), this time renamed Ze’ev (I’m told it means “Wolf” in Hebrew), he was adopted by an Israeli family, where, when he was old enough, he fought in and survived several wars against Hitler’s erstwhile Arab allies.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the “Final Solution” by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.

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