From Part 2The Legend

She won’t even let me call her a “Holocaust survivor”. She said survivors are just the ones who’ve had some miracle happen to them, and my grandmother doesn’t believe in stuff like that. And now I don’t know what to call her. A Little Holocaust, that’s what she said, I mean I swear those were her words, even though for some reason, I really don’t know why, I didn’t actually write them down.

I told her: But you did survive, you stayed alive, and I even stressed the word “alive”, like you told me to, but she answered right away that it wasn’t a miracle, though I suspected she really did expect a miracle back then. And I tried, I swear to you that I tried to get her to start from the beginning so I could get it all down, and I did just what you said to do, because even though you’re our history teacher, I know you’ve studied psychology too, but she just kept mixing things up and getting all confused, even though it isn’t like her to get confused, at least not on those kinds of things. And just when I thought she was finally getting on with it, she would stop and clam up, and then she’d try again, and again everything got stuck, and I couldn’t understand where the bug was, and I started losing patience, but still I kept restraining myself, because it isn’t easy for them to go all the way back, and we have to be sensitive and responsible in how we draw them out. And the main thing is to be compassionate, though we’ll never really be able to understand. That’s what you told us. But even trying to listen is worth something.

I tried every way I know. I asked the simplest things, but it didn’t work. Because if the story is stuck, how am I supposed to know how to get it free. Unless there is no story, or at least not the story you were expecting.

And I admit that suddenly this whole project is beginning to look pointless, because even though my grandmother really was in the Holocaust, I’m not sure it counts, because she was a little girl and she didn’t go through any of the big, horrifying things we learn about in history or read about or see in the movies. If she’d been an adult, or at least my age, then she’d have had a story by now, or half a story, something that could count as a story. But me, all I’ve managed to get out of her was that they hid her with a couple of farmers in some small village. She couldn’t even remember its name because she was so little then, and considering that she can’t say anything about a ghetto or about concentration camps, her story doesn’t add up to much. And what little I got, which doesn’t amount to a story anyway, I could have put in my notebook without having to spend a whole afternoon at her place, because the tiny bit she told me is stuff that my mother knows too.

And if my grandmother doesn’t even remember what grade I’m in, then why should she remember something that happened when she was a little girl with a small memory? Whenever I have a birthday she always messes it up and brings me the wrong present. It’s become a kind of family joke, because when I was four, or maybe five, whatever, she refused to buy me a doll, and she and my grandfather even fought about it – he was still alive then – because he’d seen this commercial with a doll where you press its bellybutton and it wets itself. And after a while he even let me in on his secret, that he bought it anyway, but my grandmother took it to the shop and forced them to take it back, even though he hadn’t even bothered to take a sales slip.

We had a good laugh over it in the end. And I couldn’t help myself: even though my grandfather said it was a secret, it didn’t seem to me like such an important secret and I didn’t keep it to myself. I mean I just blurted it out when I was laughing because she’d just come into the room and she saw us, so she started laughing too, because maybe she’d decided that it was silly to fight over a thing like that. I mean why argue over a doll that wets herself. And grandpa gave her a hug, which kind of embarrassed me – I mean old people hugging – and she went on laughing because if there’s one thing you can’t say about my grandmother it’s that she doesn’t have a sense of humor, although not everyone understands it, especially not my mom. My grandmother, what can I tell you, she like laughs at the weirdest things, like people on talk shows arguing about the meaning of life, or the horoscope telling you what’s going to happen to you because some comet crossed the horizon of Mercury while you were being born. And once we were watching TV together and we saw this expert talking about a technique for controlling your thoughts and your feelings, and another expert was telling the studio audience how to release anger and talking about energy points – you just have to press on the right places and you get rid of all the garbage inside. And she thought it was hilarious. She gave this strange laugh of hers. Really quiet, no sound, all you see is the way her mouth twitches, and the little muscles around her mouth. A silent laugh as if it isn’t coming from her throat, or from her stomach, or wherever people usually laugh, but from somewhere completely different.

And I’m telling you, Miri, none of the things you’d expect from someone who was there stuck to her. She’s a happy-go-lucky person with lots of friends too. And ever since she retired and stopped working at the X-ray lab at the hospital, she’s been going to the theater every week and to the flea market every Sunday. And she brings back all sorts of junk, especially old necklaces. She has a whole collection hanging on her bedroom wall – she never wears them – and when I was little, she’d let me play with them. And she’s not a pain like some other grandmothers. Never tells me off for wearing a belly shirt or for debating between piercing my bellybutton and getting a tongue stud, and she never says: “When we were young… in our generation….” – which is what I keep hearing from my mom, who seems a lot older than my grandma sometimes. Even my friends say that my grandmother is cool, especially after she started getting into computers and announced that she was going to surf the net. I even screamed it at my mother once when we were having a fight, and she screamed back: I’m not in some competition with your grandmother. And I said: Why don’t you call her “my mother”?

So what do you want me to write? That she was a little girl and she was saved? That’s the whole story. My mother doesn’t think there’s much to look into either, because everyone who was a child there and who was hidden stayed alive at least, and had someone to care about them – which should count for something.


From Part 5The Diary

Maybe history is a kind of story, a kind of poem, a collection of legends, that people tell themselves at night. And these stories and legends and poems embody the truth, in a code that few will want to decipher.
Some day in the future, memory will be packaged like merchandise, turning into nothing more than a thick cloud, and the story of one little girl during the time of horror will be swallowed up within it.
And I cannot count on the little girl’s memory either, because I did everything within my power to erase it. I destroyed it, knowing full well that this would preserve her body and her soul for the rest of her life, which had been entrusted to me for safe keeping. But I do not absolve myself of responsibility for doing so, which is why I bury the memory in a box outside the boundaries of her body, a kind of light-giving heavenly body that will circle her and shed its reflected light – so long as she herself is not branded by it. This testimony will lie in the darkness until such time as the child is no longer with us, and I too will have gone the way of all flesh.
This memory will live on, I promise myself, just as the laughter of the rat will always be there. It is a laughter that evolves in such utter darkness that we cannot even suspect it exists. Even if we ourselves never laugh it, we will always hope that someone else might, no matter what happens, in spite of everything.
I bury this testimony and seal it shut. Lazarus in shrouds. Some day it will rise from the dead.
The Jews did exist.
The little girl does exist.
Against all forgettings, this memory shall prevail.

Translation:Prof. Miriam Shlesinger

Prof. Miriam Shlesinger was born in the United States, and has been living in Israel since 1964. She completed her B.A. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in musicology and linguistics in 1968, her postgraduate diploma in translation and interpreting at Bar-Ilan University in 1978, her M.A. in the Department of Literary Studies at Tel Aviv University in 1989, and her Ph.D. at Bar-Ilan University in 2000. She is currently chair of the Department of Translation and Interpreting Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Prof. Shlesinger is also a practicing translator of plays, novels and short stories from Hebrew into English, as well as a conference interpreter.

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