I read Abby Meth Kanter’s “Denied memories” (Exit Ramp, April 2) in astonishment. The story of her “missing” grandmother reminded me of my husband’s “missing mother.”
Following World War II, she died in a DP camp at the young age of 37. Three months later, father and son (my husband) sailed to America.
Within the year, my father-in-law married another Holocaust survivor who had been in Paris during the war. Yiddish was their first language, but French was also spoken. My husband’s stepmother had a large family and he gained aunts, uncles, and many cousins, but unfortunately his mother was never mentioned. Her memory was not being extinguished on purpose, it was just that life — school, Torah learning, forming a new family unit — continued under difficult economic conditions.
What was done on purpose was not telling the grandchildren that my husband’s stepmother was not their “real” grandmother. One Shabbat, as we were sitting around the table, my 11-year-old son asked my husband, “How come you and zeyde speak Yiddish and bubbe speaks French?” It was time to tell them and we did.
I was never comfortable with the secret but did not want to disagree with my father-in-law, and my husband was willing to acquiesce. The fear was that the grandchildren would respect their grandmother less if they knew she was not their “real” one.
The years have passed and I am happy to relate that my mother-in-law’s memory is very much alive. My son has become very interested in genealogy and has done extensive research into her lineage.
This past year brought two wonderful examples of “m’dor l’dor,” from generation to generation. One of my daughter’s sons interviewed his grandfather for “Names Not Numbers,” a Holocaust documentary project.
Her older son was a counselor in Camp HASC. One of his campers lives in Munich, Germany, where his father is a Chabad shaliach. This compassionate rabbi went to my mother-in-law’s grave and sent us photos of the headstone.
As Meth Kanter so aptly said, “the beloved young wife and mother” is being remembered and we, the grandparents, are committed to telling our grandchildren “the rich, including painful, stories of our family.”