43 – Is it a boy or a girl? and writing September Songs

Surprising discovery

We are only correct sometimes, and it’s oh-so-much-better to know when we don’t know.

During a return visit to Nahariya’s Lieberman House Museum in July, I learned something crucial about the sculpture that had opened the rush of Grandma memories described in Blog 40.

How do I say this?


The sculpture was a self-sculpture by Alexander Kirzner. I checked and double checked, but it’s not Alexandra. My Grandma sculpture was a MAN!

Sorry Grandma.

Is it a bit too much reality to say this? After a certain age, men’s and women’s features become more androgynous.

When first examining the sculpture, it did cross my mind that it could be a man, but the seduction of delicious Grandma memories made the simple, Crucial!, fact irrelevant.

After my moment reorienting to the sculpture we’ll now call Grandma Alexander – instead of Grandma Edith – I began my appointment with Mia, the Museum’s manager/historian extraordinaire. She filled me with more than two hours of history and stories of the region’s characters, even her own family’s experiences as early settlers.

Mia’s around my age, and her parents are among the few who survived Auschwitz, afterwards immigrating to Israel. Still going strong, her mother takes art classes and produces beautiful oil paintings. We looked at old time photos of early pioneers tilling soil, building first markets, etc and Mia told me about them as folks now in their 80s and 90s, some as strong and sharp as ever. Others, not so much.

I could have sat all day listening, but alas, other visitors arrived. Her stories were a gift to me, hopefully my enthusiastic attention a gift in return.

Finally, I’m accepting one-time encounters for what they are, and not imagining that I’ve made a new friend. Our connection as teacher and student was fascination with the lives lived and the region’s history. Also, my only conversation-of-substance for the day.

some mistakes are just plain Cute

Last Spring, I planned a trip to visit Poland in the first week of September.

Specifically, the Warsaw Ghetto, Schindler’s Factory, and Majdanek and Auschwitz Death Camps.

You’re asking:  Why?!?!?

Simple. I felt it was time. And yet there are many reasons.

Consequently, in June and July I was compelled more than ever to immerse myself in the Courage of the sufferers, the Spirit of the fighters, the Kindness of the non-Jews, and as much as I could bear of the cruelty of the Cruel.

Yad LaYeled (translates loosely “hand to child”) is a Children’s Museum extrordinaire with fascinating videos of survivors telling their stories of childhood years. Some hid or were hidden by gentile families or in convents. Others tell of feral lives alone in forests, with other children, or with strangers united for survival. One described as a girl spending her days in a large, covered pit with men and women sharing a bucket as toilet without privacy, not enough room for everyone to lay down at the same time, waiting until darkness to stand, receive the day’s food and water. . .

A different child’s voice filled each area of the spiraling downward museum. Each exhibits’ photos, memorabilia, and visual displays is narrated by a child reading authentic diaries and letters of children from that era. The floor’s notable decline and sense of “going in circles” gives a bodily experience to what was happening as the story is told: normal life morphing with initiation of one restriction after another. Jews can’t sit in the park…work as a physician…attend school…enter this store…

My heart split into two:
  1. The young writers’ description of life’s changes under the Nazi regime
  2. The post-war boys and girls of various ages reading the letter or diary of a child their approximate and age – a child who most likely didn’t survive the war. How could the readers not be affected by these first-hand accounts reeking of fear, confusion, and loss?! An earlier generation of children suddenly forbidden to go to school or music classes, accosted on the street, fathers losing jobs, forced moves into squalid, impossibly cramped conditions – Ghettos – starving and imprisoned in their own city. A few writings described the train rides without toilet facilities or water, and life in the camps. How could reading for such recordings not have been a dramatic experience for these post-war children?


“A million and a half children perished in the holocaust. Only tens of thousands survived in the forests, in hide-outs, with non-Jews who saved them, on city streets, and in hiding places throughout Europe. This exhibit focuses on the children who survived the Holocaust. It describes their emotional and geographical journey, as well as the role of survivors, youth movement members, and volunteers from Eretz Israel who stepped forward in order to return to these children something of their lost childhoods, to light a path of light for them so they could find their lost  faith in people, laugh, sing, play, create, learn, and believe in a better future, one that was worth living.”

Each exhibit has a video monitor offering visitors Hebrew, English, or French subtitles of the testimonies of survivors. I guessed these people ranged from mid- 50s to 80s at the time of the recordings, from all walks of life. The speakers’ styles and speaking skills were deliciously Non-Hollywood Genuine in both monologues and interviews.

Telling of being hidden, their facial expressions in the recordings flash the confusion of the child they were at suddenly living with strangers. Most mention being forbidden to speak of their real family, adapting to a new name and even pretend to be Catholic, not Jewish. These Grandparent-aged men and women’s faces portray their early years’ vulnerability. While some describe episodes of miraculous timing, most of life seemed about emotions screaming “Panic!”


Their courage, and those who helped are the stuff of life. Fertilizer on roses… The cruelty of mankind is history, and still there are roses:

People who love and sacrifice for others

I choose to honor the victim’s lives by not protecting my heart from their suffering. What disease could I possibly be exposed to in learning of their lives? How can words begin to touch upon the magnitude of their experience?

Learning about them is one way I honor who they were, much like I try to learn about a new friend’s life.

Extreme Sport? I feel more alive when connecting with the Real life of others, and that must by definition include both sorrows and losses as well as successes and joys. It’s not about me, but about them.

What’s depressing is to think only of My Life. One drop in the bucket. I love knowing, one way or another, a few of the other drops.

The specifics blur because I have never retained dates and geography and couldn’t pass a history exam, but I know the people’s stories – those I’ve “met” – even if not their names. “Self,” I say, “You don’t have to learn everything. There is no exam, and if people think you’re a dummy because you don’t know names and dates, well, so be it.”

What expectations or standards have you released yourself from, for the good?

Whose September songs do you know? Frank Sinatra? Earth Wind & Fire? The Tempo’s? JD Cooper?

September Songs is the working title of blog #44.  Why? There are countless “September” songs about love and loss and hope, so it’s seems the perfect title for recounting Poland, the first week of September.

Try Google-ing “songs about September”. You’ll find memories and unfamiliar, and hope and loss . . . that’s what I experienced in September’s journey through Poland. Don’t fear that you’re not up to it because it’s a Good journey.

See you in September Songs

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