War, continental divides, silence, the Holocaust and the passage of time have proven love near impossible for some. But not Erica and Bob. This is the story of how they found each other again, after 53 years apart.
The first photograph in this series was taken in the Retirement Home Chapel where Erica and Bob were married on Valentines Day in 1990.
A corner of one of Bob's paintings. He was working as an art teacher in Los Angeles when he and Erica reunited. She eventually sat in on one of his classes.
Just outside the chapel is the veranda that Erica has claimed as her special place and sits and reads in often. It overlooks a beautiful garden and you can also see downtown Los Angeles in the distance.
One of Erica's paintings. She never held a brush until she and Bob met again, and then he taught her. She now tells her life story as well as Holocaust survival through narrative paintings. It was his gift to her, she says.
Though Bob passed a few years back, Erica has kept his name on the door next to hers.
And here is a paraphrased account, for viewers without audio capabilities.
When Erica was 16 and living in pre-World War II Hungary, she met Bob and fell in love with him. They were together for a year or two and then Bob and his family fled Hungary for America as tensions rose in Europe. They would write each other letters, some 20 to 30 pages long as they did their best to stay in touch, hoping eventually that Erica would join Bob in America. He even went so far as to propose to her on a gramophone disk which he sent to Erica's mother. Hearing all of this reminded me what it was to burn for someone that way and reminded me that even 92 year old's were once teenagers. Young and and bold overcome with love. Always believing even when the odds aren't favorable. As the war escalated, passage to the west became impossible and correspondence did as well. The letters stopped eventually, the dream of being together slipped away and it was 53 years until Erica and Bob spoke or heard of each other again.
After some time, Erica fell in love again. At this point, the war had arrived. Shortly after getting together, this young man was drafted and sent to the front in Russia. There, he starved and froze to death. After experiencing heartbreak again, Erica decided she was no longer willing to risk the pain of loss again. Eventually though, and at a perhaps inopportune time, she found someone again. A Hungarian soldier who was in hiding at the Red Cross Hospital in Budapest, along with Erica. Aside from brief captures on more than one occasion, they both avoided the ghettos and the concentration camps. They married in March of 1944 and both lived to see the liberation of Hungary and the Jewish from Nazi Germany. They lived together for 40 years before he passed away.
Four years after he died, two of Erica's friends were at a New Years Eve party in Los Angeles and they came across Bob. The woman asked him if he remembered "a girl called Erica." Bob later said that in that moment it was as if the sun came out and was shining on him again. He got her information in Hungary and wrote her. Included in this first letter was a poem whose refrain said, "Come to me. Come to me." And so it began that after 53 years of silence and separation, Bob and Erica came together again. One or two visits later, they were married in a retirement home chapel in Los Angeles, the same chapel where this portrait of her was taken. The day... Valentine's Day 1990.
From there, she resettled with him in LA and they spent 15 years together, before he passed. Bob had become an art teacher and was also a painter himself. She sat in on one of his classes and though she had never held a brush or even dabbled with art, she quickly found herself to be a natural at painting. She has since created hundreds of colorful works and sketches, of particular interest are the narrative black and white series she uses to tell her Holocaust survival story. When she shares her story publicly, she uses the paintings as guideposts and visual accompaniment.
Where the story gets even more interesting is where the letters are concerned. Like most others, Erica lost everything in the war, including all of her family, save her mother. Everything... but a stack of letters. In this stack were those that she and Bob had written to each other back in the late 30's. After they reunited, she showed them to him but at that point his Hungarian was mostly forgotten and he couldn't read them. After a few years together though he picked the language up again. One day he went through the letters and found something strange.
All those years before, back when they were teenagers separated by an ocean, Bob had written her a letter and in it he recounted a dream he had about their wedding. In it, they got married but Erica wasn't wearing a formal wedding dress and all of the attendees at the wedding were elderly. Also, in the dream there was some confusion about how Erica would sign her name on the marriage certificate. She wasn't sure what last name to put. Bob had this dream in the late 30's. And all those years later, life played out just as the dream did, with them getting married in a simple ceremony at a retirement home, surrounded by old folks. And their wedding day saw Erica, hesitant to enter into a new marriage using the name of her last husband and unsure what name to sign on the license, just like in the dream with a letter to prove it's existence. She told me this and then looked right at me and said, "How can you explain this?"
I can't explain it, but i can appreciate it. Some of you have been fortunate enough to find what you want and need where love is concerned, and gratitude should surely be yours. Enjoy it while it lasts. And some of you who have yet to, even as you find yourself in your 20's, 40's and 60's, listening to the clock tick and wondering what life has for you... patience can be yours. There may be something and someone waiting for you down the road, even as far ahead as your twilight years. As Erica says in the last line of her book, "We just have to wait and see."