Somewhere in the faded archives there’s a picture of my father, Noah, mother, Ida, sister, Sarah. showing them seated, with others, at a table set for a celebration.
But it’s a façade.
Father appears wasted. Mother’s expression is blank, and Sarah, around eight at the time, shows herself to be hopeful and hopeless all at once.
That sums it up.
The place is Philadelphia, and it’s the second night of Passover, 1944, and for the family it’s their first day in the New World…and Freedom.
From Lisbon, the ship that carried them, and the other Survivors, was the liner Serpa Pinto, famed as the “Ship of Hope.”
Hope was all they had left. Everything else was left behind and taken from them in Toulouse, France. Home, family, friends…gone, many to Auschwitz.
Throughout the years, Mother kept saying, “We were the lucky ones,” and obviously, for this family, Pesach would be celebrated as a double festival.
The Haggadah was this family’s firsthand story as well…sometimes line by line.
Often around this time, I go back to that picture of 1944, the second night of Passover, a night to hallow the Deliverance from Egypt…and France… and I wonder.
What were they thinking?
Their faces show bewilderment…untrusting of a future, and traumatized by the past. What future? Only the past is tangible.
Sarah, who helped clear the paths for the guides up and down the Pyrenees, must be thinking how one morning the street signs were changed from French to German, and how her best friend, Incarnacion, a day later called her “dirty Jew,” and then, frozen in fear, how she had to fabricate the story of the family’s escape, that morning, by telling her teacher that she had to go home because her mother was sick.
The Vichy teacher wasn’t fooled, a nightmare that lasts for Sarah to this day.
Father had arranged the escape through the auspices of Bishop LaRoche, and thereby saved his own family and others as well.
Is that what Father was thinking…or was it about the Jewish families who refused to join the escape, but chose to take their chances and stay behind…at what price?
Could he have done more to persuade them that the time to leave was now?
Mother must be thinking how one by one aunts, uncles, cousins were picked off the streets, never to be heard from again.
Her sorrow is plain on her face.
Overnight, Christian neighbors turned on her, but then, up in the Pyrenees, the Gestapo a step behind…the nuns offered safety…at the risk of their own lives.
Miracles did happen…like the event on the train.
But the biggest miracle of all came four years later, after 1944…the creation of the Jewish State of Israel.
But over the past few months there has been turbulence in the Land…brother against brother.
My family…like the others who suffered but endured…gradually healed, from one Seder to the next.
Even Mark Twain said, Jewish power is unrivalled when Jews stick together (in my own words).
It’s time…O Israel…it’s time to heal, and let it be now, around the Seder table.
Remember and appreciate who you are, from the sainted words from my sainted mother, with this twist – “YOU are the lucky ones.”
New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva.
He wrote the worldwide book-to-movie bestseller “Indecent Proposal,” the authoritative newsroom epic, “The Bathsheba Deadline,” followed by his coming-of-age classics, “The Girls of Cincinnati,” and, the Holocaust-to-Montreal memoir, “Escape from Mount Moriah.” For that and his 1960s epic “The Days of the Bitter End,” contemporaries have hailed him “The last Hemingway, a writer without peer, and the conscience of us all.” Email Jack here.