There is no sanguine, no blood. Red fabric flaps across the stony walls, the hooked cross like a giant spider clinging to silk. Dry as chalk, the dehydrated world they burst from, compacted into grainy, black and white photos, pulled out of caramel-lined handbags, cloudy diamonds on vinyl table-cloths. Psychedelic wallpaper lined their walls, purple paisley shirts on the men, eye-popping printed dresses on the women—they were now so vibrant. They had been shadows passing over glaciers, a dissolving land. A world in which brutality was stacked in sheets of alabaster paper, laced with black text, and stamps. The eagle and the swastika—a pair of inky condemnations. They survived, their loved ones did not. Dry, ashen, somber plumes against a faded and indifferent sky. The survivors looked to the sea. They stepped onto a ship from a land of sorrow and slate, and filtered out onto a wharf flooded with phosphorescent sunlight, resplendent and blinding all at the same time.
Grandchild that I am. Born into a vividly, hued suburb filled with chromatic regularity, and iridescent horizons. They squeezed our cheeks and arms, wanting to feel the fullness of our flesh. “Eat!” Food of every description came out of their kitchens, bright orange carrots on gefilte fish, green zucchini soup, purple beetroot borscht, and yellow apple compote. “Sheynah Meydelah, Mayn Yingele”, they sang out. We were the future. They looked at us and their faces beamed brighter than a thousand suns.
They are now gone, and the last of them are going. It is colder without them.
Our grandparents and their friends were frightened of looking back at the destruction. Afraid that a backward glance would, like in the words of Sforno, “spread to you as if it were following you”, or Rashi, “It is not fitting that you should witness the doom while you yourself are escaping” and as the Torah warns: Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt. There was only one way they looked. Forward. To us. To the blinding sun.
Against their advice, we turned around. We looked back at the colossus, and echoed their survival chant: “never again”. The evidence so neatly documented in 7 point type, by a state-run system, precisely detailed in ledgers with profit margins; human hair prices coupled with the cost of zyklonB.
In an effort to protect us, our grandparents left so much out. “You need not know all the details!” they answered, and we acquiesced. We did not challenge them. I grew to be satisfied with my mind’s silvery movie version. That was until I had children of my own. They ask so many questions about their great grandparents’ lives in Europe. Questions I had never even considered. I forge a narrative as best I can. I reach into a vacuum of ‘should haves’: ‘should have asked this’, ‘should have asked that’, and now find myself scrambling for answers. The cavity is growing with every unanswered question. Like tectonic plates moving away from each other, the deep darkness of the unknown expands. We stand on their anecdotes—anchors, but the gaps are widening, and we attempt to straddle two worlds, past and future.
Our very own Yiddish-speaking grandparents. They were not just another generation, they were the last of an epoch—transplanted into the coal-face of a new one. We, their grandchildren, had a cinematic front row glimpse. The polar extremes of colour drained to its vanishing point, and then the rush to flood, saturate and nourish all that was theirs again.