> Holocaust Studies > People

Nighttime with Zaidy

May 9, 2009 | by Chanie S.

Sleep provides no respite from the past.

Dear Zaidy,

I loved you so much. I want you to know I knew your pain. I clearly remember our trip to Miami together. I was eight years old. It was one of the most traumatizing events of my young life. You and Bubby lived so far but we visited as often as possible. You were my role model, my tall, strong and handsome Zaidy who was always buying me hot chocolate and making me giggle.

We went to Miami in December. The first day we went to the beach and had such a good time. Later, we settled into our adjoining hotel rooms. We said goodnight and I recall you methodically closing every closet and drawer. My bed was a few feet away from yours since we kept the doors open, and of course I felt so safe and secure.

I remember waking up slowly in a daze. I heard terrible screams and couldn't understand where they were coming from. My sister looked to me for guidance; she too was frightened and confused. I walked into your room and you were thrashing around and shouting for dear life. You were screaming "Mama" over and over again and saying names I had never heard of. I was too young to give thought as to why you had no parents, no siblings and not a single living relative, but the names you said that night were theirs.

We held each other tight and watched as our beacon of strength was shattered.

Only later did I learn that you had no Mama; she was ripped away from you when you were all of 16. I learnt that you watched your father and younger brother walk into a gas chamber; they emerged as ashes a half hour later. I learnt that your sister died a day before liberation and you told Mommy she was the most beautiful girl. I learnt that you closed the closets methodically because you were so afraid.

After decades of marriage Bubby was so used to this that she slept right through it. We didn't. We held each other tight and watched as our beacon of strength was shattered. Our idea of security gone forever. My first glimpse into the persecution of the nation in which I was the next link in the chain. Your screams finally subsided and we stayed awake until the hot Florida sun rose.

We never said a word; what would we say to you anyway? You never knew I knew your pain.

Years passed.

I was heartbroken when you returned your shattered soul to God. I vowed to find out more about where you came from and what happened to you. I went to Poland but the more I learnt, the less I wanted to know. I couldn't handle thinking of all the family you lost and all they suffered. I couldn't bear the thought of my Zaidy's pain.

More years passed.

My firstborn Moshe is named after you. I want him to continue your namesake, to grow into the warm, caring and loving person you were. He is young now but we already see his special qualities. He brings us so much joy and gives me special comfort.

Sometimes he, too, has nightmares and screams for his Mama. And just like that night, I wake up in a daze. I'm tired from the baby and running after a toddler all day. But I am not frightened or confused. The screams from this Moshe are almost a pleasure. He is a little boy in a clean, warm bed with a full stomach and parents who love him. He can freely be a proud, observant Jew.

Like me, he is part of the continuation. He represents you, the survivor who rebuilt. He symbolizes not only what we lost, but what we still have.

And unlike you, when he calls for his Mama, I am right there.


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