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  • It was terrifically hot. It was Bratislava and there were no air conditioning anywhere, not in the restaurants, not in the art galleries, not in the blasted hotel. The most they gave us were pitiful fans that blew the hot air faintly around the room. No cross ventilation in that room either, unless you opened the door to the hallway. We had walked around the city the entire day with my mother as the guide. This was the city of her birth. We were the Jews coming back to see the lost life, the lost culture and the lost grandeur of her past. They were a well-to-do Orthodox Jewish family. They lived in a Park Avenue-sized apartment in an old stately building above their deluxe goods store. My mother's father, sold china, lead crystal, silver goods, all the appurtenances of a rich life.

    Their life was built around a large family, a good religious community and the support of their fellow citizens. Until the War, that is, when all of that was snatched from them. In 1940, they were evicted from their commodious apartment and forced to live in the ghetto of Bratislava. Later when things got much worst, my mother, was sent to live with a woman who was paid a large sum monthly for her troubles. Sadly, my grandparents were captured on the eve of Yom Kippur in 1944 and taken to Auschwitz. Immediately, on hearing this news the lady threw my mother out on the street. She kept my mother's clothes since she was worried that a small girl wandering the streets with a suitcase would be an easy target for the Nazis. The fact that her daughter was the same size and had shabbier clothes didn't figure in this at all, I am sure.

    My mother wandered the streets of Bratislava and somehow ran into her sister who was also thrown out of her safe haven. The two went to a family friend who had been entrusted with the remains of the family savings. Although he was a registered Nazi, he hid them in an unheated ruin where he demanded they stay underground! He fed them sporadically and not enough. He took them to the forest to shoot them dead and then lost nerve and returned them to their hole. The winter of 1945 was one of the coldest in history and the two girls shivered there for weeks. Finally, word of their pathetic existence was heard by another family friend who arranged for them to be hidden with a peasant family in a neighboring village. They survived the war with these simple people who were not paid but just felt that this was the right thing to do.

    These were the memories that returned to my mother during our visit. They were scorched into our brains by the heat, as we walked from her beautiful home to the site of the ancient ghetto, now destroyed and in its stead, a modern bridge was erected, erasing all history of the Jews of Bratislava. She took us to her girl's school only to find that it is now an office building with no mention of the life these girls lead there. She became dizzy, she was faint. There was nowhere to cool her off. We searched desperately for a cab. We finally arrived back at the incredibly hot rooms, and I took this picture. All the pain of her memories lies in her face, the fear, the sadness, the loss, the chaos and the trauma.

    Her normally happy, joking personality was subsumed into a cold and uncommunicative bitterness. Her loving warmth became trapped in a cold exterior of memories entangled with reality. It took many months for her to recover her self. Going back to the "old country" was supposed to be our family vacation. Only when we were well into the trip did I realize what a folly that was, it is no vacation going back to these memories.
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