“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!”
Emily Dickinson’s words remind me of this search of an identity and I was astonished to have discovered one of my favourite media personalities Stephan Fry and i share a common connection to Slovakia, since having recently learned that Stephan Fry’s Jewish family had resided in Slovakia before WW2, and so has mine.
I grew up thinking I knew exactly who i was, my family tree was one paternal living branch who had come to Israel long before WW2 in 1882 and one small maternal branch with many of its leaves cut off as only a hand full of relatives had managed to escape the holocaust at the very last minute, on the very last train leaving Slovakia to the free world.
In the summer of 2010 i set out on a trip to visit Bratislava with two of my three children, my sons. We were very fortunate to have had a wonderful local guide, a woman i had met through a common love of Leonard Cohen music. I was also lucky i spoke fluent German since that was the only common language i had with the Slovakian guide, Daniella. Together we visited important sites, the Jewish cemetery, the Jewish museum, the site of the synagogue, the city hall, and a museum of the prehistoric roots of the Slovakian people .
My mother was dead by now, she had passed away in April 2009 and i had no clue where to look , where she had lived, she left as a ten year old child in 1941 with her parents and two sisters when Bratislava was already under Nazi occupation, never to return.
My mother’s nuclear family were lucky enough to have gotten very rare border certificates to enter what was then called Palestine,the historical land of Israel, under British mandate who had succumbed to pressure by the local Arabs not to let in too many Jewish refugees .
My grandfather’s mother and his only sister , Gizzie, had already moved to British mandate Palestine in 1933 when Hitler had come to power and were able to send for my grandfather who had left only in 1941, presumably trying to hold on to the family business as long as he could till the lumber business had been handed over to the local police, because of the Nazi racial laws, Jews were not allowed to own land.
My maternal grandfather had been arrested by the British, he looked typical Aryan , tall with blue eyes and a German sounding name , the racial laws were of course absurd since jews did NOT have a typical look, but it helped the family not stand out under Nazi occupation. The British had released my grandfather after having observed he is a thoroughly observant Jew with no connection to Nazi Germany but his great love for Strauss , which they could not have known at the time, of course…
My grandmother’s mother and her six adult siblings , mostly highly educated , three of them having earned a phD. in law or philosophy, , their spouses, and their children were all deported and murdered except for two nephews and two nieces who had survived the concentration camps, only one had children who were severely mentally ill. Recent research exposes the connection between traumatic war experiences and the effect on future generations.
THE HOLOCAUST IN SLOVAKIA
Though nominally independent, Slovakia was highly dependent on Nazi Germany after the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.
In November 1940, Slovakia joined the Axis when its leaders signed the Tripartite Pact. In fulfillment of the requirements of the Axis partnership, Slovakia participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 and declared war on Britain and the United States in December 1941.
Slovakia was also the first Axis partner to consent to the deportation of its Jewish residents in the framework of the “Final Solution.” According to a census of December 15, 1940, there were about 88,951 Jews in Slovakia. In March 1942, Slovakia signed an agreement with Germany that permitted the deportation of the Slovak Jews. Between March and October 1942, Slovak gendarmes, assisted by Slovak military personnel, units of the Slovak People’s Party’s paramilitary organization, the Hlinka Guard, and members of the Slovak ethnic German paramilitary formation Freiwillige Schutzstaffel (Volunteer SS), concentrated some 57,000 Slovak Jews in indigenously established labor and concentration camps—mainly in the camps Sered, Novaky, and Vyhne.
The Slovak authorities then transported the Jews to the border of the Government General or the German Reich and turned them over to German SS and police. German authorities killed virtually all of these Jews in Auschwitz, Lublin/Majdanek, Sobibor, and other locations in German-occupied Poland. Perhaps 300 survived the war. Among them were Alfred Wetzler and Walter Rosenberg (alias Rudolf Vrba), who escaped from Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 and compiled the first detailed report on operations there for general dissemination in the west.
As reports, in part passed on by the Papal Nuncio in Bratislava, reached the Tiso government that the German authorities were murdering the Slovak Jews in German-occupied Poland, the Slovak President hesitated, and then refused, to deport the remaining 24,000 Jews in Slovakia in the autumn of 1942. During the deportations, some 6,000 Slovak Jews escaped to Hungary. On August 29, 1944, however, Slovak underground resistance organizations, Communist and non-Communist, rose against the Tiso regime as Soviet troops entered neighboring Subcarpathian Rus.
As the Slovak authorities were helpless to quell the uprising, German troops moved in. Einsatzgruppe H of the Security Police and SD, whose duties included rounding up and killing or deporting the remainder of the Slovak Jews, accompanied the Wehrmacht into Slovakia. Between September 1944 and the end of the year, German units deported approximately 12,600 Slovak Jews, most of them to Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, and other camps in Germany. German and Hlinka Guard units killed a few thousand Jews caught in hiding or fighting with the partisans in Slovakia.
Perhaps half of the Jews deported out of Slovakia during and just after the uprising ended in October 1944 survived. Thousands of Jews remained in hiding in Slovakia. In all, German and Slovak authorities deported more than 70,000 Jews from Slovakia; the Germans murdered more than 60,000 of them.
The Germans and their collaborators killed approximately 263,000 Jews who had resided on the territory of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1938.
Unlike the family members in “who do you think you are”,my family or what is left of it, as the elders died off leaving a heft inheritance to a bunch of brutal grabbers are vicious vultures who actually recently had accused me of wasting time practicing yoga instead of working like them, working at grabbing money from elderly people more like it..
“I wish I had time for yoga. I have to work”says my elder brother,a cruel chinless wonder who has exhibited time and time again a talent of presenting himself as a VICTIM despite owning several apartments in Israel.
While i was away struggling in Europe not to die from domestic violence and take care of my children despite the meddling of the biased Europeans , my brother and sister had been busy slowly milking money out of my mother without remorse and what’s worst raised children to believe that they are righteous people who took care of the grandmother so that they deserve more than what is written in the will because somehow they had the keys and manipulated a women with a stroke to sign away her power of attorney , go drag THAT through the courts of law, i thought but lately i concluded that while i wavered the symbolic 100 dollars compensation paid by the holocaust commission of Slovakia to ever decendent of a holocaust victim, i am not sure i am ready to be cheated by my greedy siblings.
My mother who had suffered a stroke was left on her own .I was not told,to spare me the pain,I was told but having lived 4 hours away by flight and being on my own with three children there was not much I could have done. My voice was never heard in the family stigmatized by a barbarian who rose up to a manager position in the electricity company through his talent of manipulation my brother is the very image of the sort of psychopath who would have had no problem robbing graves and accusing others of the very crime .
It is no secret that the Jewish communities in Europe had cooperated with the Nazis hoping perhaps to be shot last or to survive but nonetheless we must remember that there is no absolute DARK and cruel side , there were kind Europeans who had sought to save people during the holocaust , though too few, and there were Jews, still today, who are not worthy of the title “the chosen people” since they choose not only NOT to act to help but do not do for others .
A coward who had stolen a car at age 12 and sent away to a boarding school to learn a profession my brother now only had mean words to say to me and what should he say to a university graduate with a Masters degree who speaks her mind? He accuses me of mental issues , the ultimate crime for which the punishment is taking over your share of the inheritance and NOT informing you when your mother is in a critical condition and might die so you have a last chance to say goodbye..in fact he also remembered to tell me my favourite aunt who was like a second mother had terminal cancer when it was too late..why did my aunt not tell me? why did my mother not tell me? I have no idea ..I can not blame my siblings for the choices people make but i do think that a person unable to make decisions should not be taken advantaged of and led to a lawyer to change a will to benefit one side.
I have no idea in which universe i am related to such a horrible primitive cave man who can lie without thinking twice and who had no mercy for his own mother to make sure she was in a safe place and not left on HER OWN after a stroke!!!!I recall my mother saying she had not seen any of the family for days..i had no idea she was in a mental state where she could not take care of herself!!!
I feel guilty and will continue to feel guilty I did not do more but while I sank into a destructive depression upon my mothet’s death from which I am slowly recovering day by day,my brother and his children celebrated in a shoppong spree..of course his version is that I couldn’t wait to see the will which he had changeusing our ill mother and still he is a poor man with more than 4 apartments he owns and rents claiming he earned it.
Not everyone is able to rise from the ashes. .
There is never an excuse for attacking viciously but someone people feel there is no one above them and that moral codes to not exist.Society makes it easy for those who accumulate wealth to cheat those unused to business transactions but the only hope remains that beyond genetics there are choices one can make. I recommend yoga .I recommend finding a spiritual path and avoiding materialistic people without a moral compass like a plague.
In order to comprehend my duty one needs to know my mother was born in Slovakia and lost all the family business and home to Nazis which is why this grabbing by relatives, my own people not thinking of sharing a family inheritance and taking advantage of a woman living alone are incomprehensible to me.
What is it that makes people so blind to their own faults and only able to see faults in others?