by Suzanna Eibuszyc (Calabasas, CA)
My parents both grew up in a large, closely knit family. My father’s loyalty and love of his family was one of the things that attracted my mother to him. The thought of going home to Poland, back to their families, was what kept them alive during their six years in Russia. Family represented a place of safety and a source of strength.
There is one story that resonates with me to this very day. My father’s family had a tradition. My mother had told me how for generations, his extended family gathered in a small house, in the woods, for two months every summer outside of the city of Łódź. Adults and children came together to exchange ideas, enjoy each other’s company, and share good food. To me, this was like a picture taken out of a romantic, Victorian novel. I could see them dressed in their best white linens, entertaining each other. Lounging, talking, laughing, and playing loudly among the trees and green grass.
Abram Ejbuszyc was silent about his past. He never uttered a word about what happened to him during the war or about what his life had been like before the war. From my mother’s stories, I know that he did not want to die in a Russian jail after he was arrested for not wanting to give up his Polish citizenship. His only wish was to stay alive in order to come back home to Poland. He made it back only to find his entire family had been murdered. He was the sole survivor. This knowledge pushed him into a dark despair from which he never recovered. He became silent. I cannot help but wonder if his silence was a form of self-imposed punishment.
Studies have shown that there are two kinds of parents among survivors—those who cannot connect and those who cannot separate from their children. My mother could not separate herself from her two daughters. It was as if she was afraid she would lose us at any moment. To live, my father had forsaken his family and consciously or unconsciously, he chose to suffer the consequences alone. He was tormented by survivor’s guilt; the terror was visible, inscribed on his stern face and in his sad eyes. The shock of finding out about the Holocaust and not knowing how his loved ones died resulted in nightmares, anxieties, and depression. My father detached himself from us, as if he was afraid to make a close connection and lose his loved ones all over again. By not talking, he contained the trauma he lived with, hoping not to pass it on to his children. He became a stranger to the new family he created after the war and we were deprived of a loving father. To this day, I know only that my father fled Łódź. The Germans were rounding up Jewish men and deporting them to labor camps. He ran, and in so doing, he saved his own life, abandoning his mother, father and two sisters. He was never able to forgive himself.
My father’s family came from Jews of Włoszczowa, a small town not far from the city of Łódź, they settled there in the second half of the nineteenth century. Father’s extended large family in Łódź was religious, prosperous, and well-known in the community. He came from philanthropists who supported the arts and gave money toward education. They all died in the Łódź Ghetto and in Auschwitz.
After the war, he returned to Łódź to find that his large family was decimated. My father never learned the details: that his father, Icek Dawid Ejbuszyc, his mother, Ita Mariem Grinszpanholc, and his older sister, Sura Blima, were deported from the Łódź Ghetto to Auschwitz in September of 1942. A hospital record shows that his younger sister Dwojra died of Unterernährung, of malnutrition, in June of 1942. She was thirty years old. I was able to uncover this information about my father’s family in recent years. When those records became available through documentation centers, however, this information was not accessible in the first few decades after the war when my father was still alive.
A document survived the war proving that my father’s family did in fact exist and prospered in the city of Łódź. A deed to real estate made my father the owner of two homes that before the war belonged to his parents. These properties were both plundered by the Germans during the war and then taken over by Polish Communists after the war. Because survivors from Russia were forced to settle in the southwestern part of Poland as part of repatriation, my father was not allowed to return to the city of his birth. After the war, property that was not destroyed ended up in the hands of ethnic Poles. Many Poles did not expect that their Jewish neighbors survived and will be returning home. They falsified papers and claimed real estate property as theirs.
My father discovered in the courthouse records unfamiliar names on the titles of his family properties. While he was alive, he traveled regularly to the courthouse in the city of Łódź and fought to reclaim his parents’ two houses. As the Communist regime took over, it took control of all private properties. People like my father lost all rights to what belonged to them. After the collapse of Communism, the Polish government estimated that the value of all the property belonging to the survivors and their descendants to be in the billions. At the same time, and to this day, Poland has not recognized property restitution or compensation for any of the survivors, Jewish or non-Jewish.
My father endured an impoverished exile with only one hope, to return to his homeland. His mind was forever haunted by memories of never saying good-bye to his family. He spent years trying to find traces to his family’s summer house. There was no closure for my father; he never was able to reunite with any of the physical remnants of his family’s happy past as if to tell him those happy days never took place. He survived Russia, and died alone on a very cold December day in 1961, far from his new home in a hospital in Klodzko. My mother, my sister, and I, while very much alive, were shadows in his life after the war. It was not that he did not deserve us, but that he was unable to emerge from his despair. He simply could not recover from what he had lost.
Born in Poland, Suzanna Eibuszyc graduated from CCNY where she took classes in the department of Jewish studies with Professor Elie Wiesel, who encouraged her to translate her mother’s memoir into English. This piece is from her new book, Memory Is Our Home, published by ibid-Verlag, in which she attempts to “shed light on how the Holocaust trauma is transmitted to the next generation, the price my family paid when we said good-bye to the old world, and the challenges we faced in America.”
This excerpt is from Memory Is Our Home by Suzanna Eibuszyc, (c) 2015 ibidem Press/ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany. ISBN 978-3-8382-0712-4 (US paperback); ISBN 978-3-8382-0682-0 (EU paperback); 978-3-8382-9732-2 (Hardback). Pages 145-147, reprinted with the kind permission of the author and her publisher.
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