Surviving With Dignity - Part I: Reflections of My Mother on How She Miraculously Survived the Holocaust and Rebuilt Her Life

[12/24/09 Update:  Part II - My Father's Reflections on the Holocaust, Pre-War Poland, and a Life Rebuilt from the Ashes]

To most Americans, this month is a reminder of miracles, great and small.  For Christians, Christmas lights are a reminder that "[a]t the moment when the darkness of human society is at its deepest, the Light of the World will come."  For Jews, Chanukah's lights are a reminder of the miracles of creation (light), of Mt. Sinai (where the Torah--likened to light--was delivered), and of the Second Temple's restoration and rededication in 164 BCE.  Chanukah's most conspicuous tradition--the Menorah--provides a simple, yet effective, reminder of the importance of rekindling and rededicating within ourselves the moral values represented by the light of creation (representing our partnership with the Almighty) and the light of the Torah (representing the moral precepts for everyday living).

This year, more than ever, my thoughts turn to two miracles that are very personal to me: those being both my parents' survival from the hell known as the Holocaust.  These thoughts were triggered this year by this recent short film from Richard Bloom and Karen Lynne Bloom that retells, through clips taken from the survivors' oral histories on file at the USC Shoah Foundation library (including my Dad's), the story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of Passover, 1943So this year, I decided to dedicate two blog posts in remembrance of the miracle of their survival.

This first post features my Mom's oral history, split into four parts (video links embedded at the end of this post):

Long time followers of this blog may remember my Mom's sudden passing in August, 2006 and this post of the eulogy I delivered where I summed up her essence (or Emes) as follows:

The proof of my mother’s greatness is not readily apparent, is it?  She received no awards.  No inscribed silver chalices or platters.  No dinners were sponsored in her honor.  No buildings named after her.  No honorariums established in her name. Seems quite an ordinary life. Yet, when we closely examine her life story, even in a brief eulogy, it resonates with a feeling that somehow, it was “meant to be,” as she often liked to say....

The first chapter, the “Formative Years,” were pastoral; indeed, idyllic.  Her memories are only happy and positive.  And the optimism and independence her parents and grandparents nurtured within her during the enlightened interwar period remained with her to the end, and very much defined the Emes of who she was.  

But those idyllic days passed quickly, and war overtook them, and imprinted within her an indelible mark… that of a survivor.  And to listen to her stories, and few have done so, is something you have to do.  They are stories you have to hear to believe, for there are none others like them.  But let me sum it up this way.  When my mother reached the fork in the road, to quote the famous philosopher Yogi Berra, she took it.  She didn’t turn around, she didn’t freeze.  She didn’t second guess herself and run.  No, she knew when there was a fork in the road, and she took it, wherever it may lead.  And it was by making those tough, smart, spontaneous decisions, by choosing a path and not looking back, when coupled with the ample blessings with which G-d protected her, that her choices were transformed into something that seemed “meant to be.”

In a world of fallen heroes, my Mom's story of survival proves that there's a potential hero in all of us.  And for the millions out there feeling despondent, I hope her story (and my Dad's soon to follow) proves the importance of maintaining dignity and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

Happy holidays to all! 

[The inset picture is a fused glass, entitled "Remember—One for Each Million."  It's origin is described in this feature story about The University of Texas at Austin's "forgiveness and resilience study" for the 10th anniversary of the Holocaust Museum Houston.  In it, Professor Roberta Greene studied the lives of 133 survivors and concluded (no surprise here) :

Amazingly, this unique group of older adults—who experienced unprecedented separation and loss during the Holocaust, living through horrors most of us cannot imagine—built new productive lives. They are resilient survivors who were able to move into a better place, raise families, develop careers and contribute to their communities.]

Here are embedded links to each of the four-parts of my Mom's interview:

Shoah Foundation Interview with Holocaust Survivor, Helen Jakubowski: Part I - Childhood through the "Judenrein" (1920's-43) from Steve Jakubowski on Vimeo.

Shoah Foundation Interview with Holocaust Survivor, Helen Jakubowski: Part II - Survival as a "Chemist" to Ravensbruck (1943-44) from Steve Jakubowski on Vimeo.

Shoah Foundation Interview with Holocaust Survivor, Helen Jakubowski: Part III - Survival To Bergen Belzen Liberation (1944-45) from Steve Jakubowski on Vimeo.

Shoah Foundation Interview with Holocaust Survivor, Helen Jakubowski: Part IV - Rebuilding a Life and Beating the Odds (1945-95) from Steve Jakubowski on Vimeo.

© Steve Jakubowski 2009

 
Written By:Francis Pileggi On December 24, 2009 11:24 AM

Steve,

Thank you for your moving and inspirational post. I'm sure your mom was--and is very proud of you. I linked to your post and was motivated to add a few notes about my dearly departed mom as well.

http://www.delawarelitigation.com/2009/12/articles/commentary/holiday-remembrances/

All the best,
Francis

Written By:Credit Solutions On February 3, 2010 1:49 AM

The Christmas reminds me of the importance of rekindling and rededicating within ourselves the moral values represented by the light of creation.