Return to Normality

The people who returned, in most cases, were not people I had known, but now that they were back, they reconstituted a small world. Among them were a couple of young men who had survived various camps and were now making their living as small-time smugglers, something they might also have done before the war. Their story wasn’t entirely clear, and at the time they might have been working for Jack, now Hella’s husband. They too were integrated into the family and were part of our various family celebrations after the war. One of their favorite pastimes at parties, was to get me drunk while giving me riddles and problems to solve until I passed out. In those days the division between adults and children wasn’t quite as strict as what it is in the United States today, and no one thought very much wrong with getting a nine, ten or eleven year-old drunk. I must also confess that these parties, which mostly took place at Hella and Jack’s apartment, were fun.

By this time, Jack and Hella were back on their feet financially. Along with a Christian partner, they had opened a wonderful delicatessen store, full of cheeses and delicious, individually-wrapped, little chocolates, smoked meats and all kinds of other delicious foods. Their apartment was on one of the upper floors of the same building as the store and was the most beautiful and comfortable I had seen up to that time, in marked contrast to the one my mother and I were living in, or that of my Aunt Paula, over Emile’s coal store. I became a regular visitor at Hella and Jack’s.
I was a pupil in elementary school at the time, within walking distance of Hella’s. It was the custom at the time to go to school from 8 AM to 12 noon, take two hours for lunch, and be back in school at 2 PM to 4, and if you wanted help with homework, or your parents just weren’t home, you could stay until 5 PM. The twelve-to-two lunch was somewhat of a problem, as there was no one home, and so I went to Hella’s house, who arranged her schedule to be available to make me lunch, and provide me with a place to nap should I want it. Hella was wonderful to me. She did whatever she could to make me comfortable and happy. She even talked to me; something no one else in the family had bothered doing. In those days, in my family, children were meant to be seen and not heard.

Much has been made of the fact that many of the people who had gone through the Nazi camps or who had lived in hiding during the war years never talked about the experience afterwards. This is true. However, I do not believe it was because of any special reticence to discuss the subject. It was because it was the shared, the common experience of these survivors, and there simply didn’t seem to be a need to discuss it. The word “Holocaust” (or the word “Shoah”) had not yet been coined to encompass the experience.

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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