In search of the history of my husband Bobby’s family — his decimated family tree — I had found myself immersed in the rubble of the Holocaust. Precious little information survived the destruction of their Jewish community in Warsaw. I didn’t even have verified names of some family members for searching accessible documents. Worse still, I could not ask for help; the Holocaust years were not discussed by my husband’s family.
Resigned to pursuing my handful of clues, I turned to writers and historians for a sense of what the family’s life might have been like. Yet a sense of the general terrain of their times was no substitute for the particulars of their lives. Discouraged by the limitations of the information I possessed, I considered the obvious: the family names, along with their stories, would be lost forever.
The unexpected back yard scene before me was a revelation; it gave me insights into the nature of digging, the patience and focus I needed to continue the painful and painstaking work of reconstructing a family’s lost history. I resisted the temptation to run for my camera. Ella’s effort was beyond a Kodak moment: it was an experience replete with memories and meanings. I needed words to describe what I was seeing and understanding.
As Ella and L J occupied themselves excavating the soil, a third party, engaged in its own version of digging, drew me away from my own ruminations about excavating the buried lives of Ella’s ancestors. Here a determined earthworm was seeking the soft black loamy terrain as it moved forward in its journey along the earth. The little worm, seemingly disturbed by the crowded corner of the yard, burrowed and slowly zigzagged off through the lightly vegetated ground. Engulfing dirt as it tunneled, the worm aerated the soil, bringing nutrients to the surface, and cast a rich fertilizer — vital to the soil’s health — back into the earth. L J was nearby, his head just touching Ella’s soft pudgy thigh. The puppy’s nails dug into soil as he enthusiastically removed dirt from the perimeter of a half-buried rock. Obsessively, L J maintained his focus on the dirt surrounding the rock, digging without concern for the debris flying in all directions.
Tiny Ella meanwhile explored a small log-sheltered hole just vacated by the earthworm. Her curious finger bent in its search for the end of the tubular space. Unsuccessful finding the hole’s destination, she began to gently pull tiny plants out of the soil and, after examining their roots, transplant the miniature foliage into new holes she meticulously prepared. Turning next toward the earthworm’s travels through and over the soil, Ella placed tiny pieces of leaves in its path and offered a soft but firm directive: “eat.” It struck me how nurturing both Ella and the earthworm had been in their diggings. Unlike L J, who was determined to dig and unearth without concern for the consequences, Ella and her terrestrial friend both created an environment for new growth, for beneficial possibilities.
Have you ever really thought about your ancestors beyond their names and dates of events in their lives? The stories of how they lived their lives can be a source of strength as well as inspiration in your own life.
In this new work of narrative nonfiction, Susan M. Rostan invites us to experience her journey as she seeks to uncover the story of her husband s family, including two courageous but silent survivors of WWII s Warsaw Ghetto: her mother-in-law Elzbieta and Elzbieta s brother, Marian Rosenbloom.
With the passing of Elzbieta, an aging Uncle Marian is the only surviving link to his family s history -- the stories of tragic loss and heroic survival -- that he and his sister had refused to share with anyone throughout their life. Encouraged by the author and driven by an emerging sense of responsibility to his sister s namesake and future generations, Marian begins a difficult journey into the memories of his childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto and subsequent survival.
As his experiences unfold, he haltingly recalls how he managed to escape the Ghetto and survive, thanks to his courageous rescuers. Out of his remembrances, the author nurtures not only the story of her husband s family history, but finds herself immersed in an insistent desire to honor Marian s rescuers. Through her poignant and compelling narrative, she revives Elzbieta s legacy of hope, caring, and laughter for all of us to share.
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Genre - Creative Nonfiction
Rating – PG-13
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