The narrative is also in the writing section. Please view this photo in the larger format.Dora was not sure why a family photograph would be taken, but she dutifully took her place on the lower right side of the photograph. Steadied and assured by her mother’s hand on her shoulder, Dora could feel a sense of urgency and sadness in her mother who seemed to be more worried about the encroaching pogroms each day. Pogroms are large-scale, targeted, and repeated anti-semitic violent attacks against Jews that date back to the Crusades such as the pogrom of 1906 in France and Germany as well as the massacres of Jews at London and York in 1189-1190.m The pogroms of the 1880’s caused a worldwide outcry and, along with harsh laws, propelled mass Jewish immigration. Two million Jews fled the Russian and Polish empire between 1880 and 1914 many going to London and the United states. The histories of atrocities against the Jews have dated back to anti-Semitic riots in Alexandria under Roman rule in AD 338 during the reign of Caligula. It shocks me to think that a group of people could be the target of such unthinkable crimes against humanity and children massacred in such large numbers before they had a chance to live. It is impossible to imagine any greater horror than human genocide before and after the Holocaust, crimes on such an indescribable scale, perpetuated by terrorist acts of the violent pogroms and during the Holocaust. The killing of 6 million Jews was the most flagrant and highly publicized genocide in history. The word “holocaust’ is also used in a wider sense to describe other actions of the Nazi regime. These include the killing of half a million migrant Romani people, the Gypsies, the deaths of several million Soviet prisoners of war, along with slave laborers, gay men, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled and a vast assortment of political and religious dissidents. Taking into account all the victims of the Nazi Genocide, the total number of victims is estimated to be an overwhelming nine to 11 million people.
I am not writing this as an academic account of the horrors committed against the Jews and other persecuted groups. I shudder to this day and am deeply affected personally by the pogroms that preceded the Holocaust. The strong mother you see in this photograph which is over 100 years old is of my Great Grandmother and her three daughters and one son. The youngest daughter on the lower right is my beloved grandmother, Dora who I refer to as my Bubby and who told me tales of her terrifying voyage from Poland to Ellis Island in New York City. Our relationship is a poignant story of an immigrant woman who did not know how to write or read and for whom I became the ears, eyes and mouth of a generation silenced by hate. I was not allowed to speak about my mother’s deceased family or mention the Holocaust. I knew the pogroms were more than just mean people who didn’t like, even hated, Jews. My bubby told me about her life in Poland and the threat the terrorists presented to her family. In the months preceding and the years after this photograph was taken, the violence directed against the Jews by the pogroms had intensified. A rash of extreme violence, including untold numbers of Jews murdered, intensified over many years to follow. In retrospect, I can feel the unbearable decision that my Great Grandmother was compelled to make, a nightmare for any mother who has to decide which child she would send to America with the hope he or she would send money for the rest of her children.
The unrest and fear was palpable by the time Bubby reached seventeen. Her Mother believed she was the strongest and most stable child to find her way in America and earn money to send for the others. Not easily frightened or intimidated, Dora seemed to her Mother the perfect emissary to a new, potentially safe place and better life. Her mother had made a good choice. Dora made enough money rolling cigars in a factory to pay for her brother, Bennie’s trip to Ellis Island. Dora and Ben stopped receiving any word at all from home. There would be no more letters from her Mother that a cousin would read to Dora and Ben. Dora’s attention had to shift from the possibility that any of her family was still alive before or after the Holocaust. The task now and for years to come would be making America her home. Eventually, she, like Ben, would marry. In 1917, she gave birth to a daughter, Sylvia Lodge, my mother. Benny married Bessie and with his wife, began to achieve some degree of prosperity.
Bubby told me about how terrified she was as a passenger in steerage. She remembered the sickness, hunger, and unbelievable filth for the rest of her life. She had nightmares about the cruelty she and her family had suffered during her childhood in Poland With each account of her courage, fear of losing her family and the unknown life she would encounter at seventeen, her heroic status to her young granddaughter became larger than life. I loved her dearly and choose to spend my weekends with her as my most beloved friend and guardian. I listened with great empathy as she told me of her early life in broken English. Her courage and pride inspired
me and soon I learned Yiddish so I could understand every precious experience she confided in me. I held her hand as she cried remembering the barely seaworthy vessel that threatened to sink many times during the turbulent passage to America. Ironically, she lived at the beach and was terrified of the water. I remember the day I took her hand and walked into the shallow water as she laughed as the splash of the sea cooled our feet. “Yes Bubby, You are so brave. With me, you do not have to fear.”
…. to be continued