i still remember her, you know?
my grandmother, that is. a woman who loved to play shop with me, to feed me her twist on new york style cheesecake, who loved to gift me with dolls from poland and the odd teddy bear or two. i remember her warmth, the slightly shrill voice, the woolen clothes and those brown loafers that she loved so much.
but i also remember how i’d catch a version of her that i wasn’t used to - a woman who looked much older, with ghost-white knuckles, and a hardened face that was far too solemn for someone who gave and gave and gave - for someone who deserved so much more than what she was given. i remember how that version of grandma would speak, too. in a hushed voice, speaking in the mousiest of whispers, as if she were a teenager again, trying not to make a peep as she hid with her whole family under the floorboards of a family friend’s home.
i also remember the tears. how they’d just… appear, from nowhere. sometimes they’d just start falling from her face mid-sentence, other times it was when she was looking forlornly out of the large window in the living room that i’d drawn on as a toddler. they were not the same tears she shed as a teenager, after watching her mother be taken away by men who embodied and reveled in pure evil. they were cracks in the wall that my grandmother had built.
then there were those days where i’d catch her looking at her arm, and the faded numbers that had overstayed their welcome there. it was like black paint on a white canvas only that canvas was a person and that paint had not been spilled accidentally, but tattooed into the arm of a young girl who had lost everything but her humanity - something the man who gave her the tattoo never had.
but worst of all, i remember how she’d frantically run about the kitchen to make me a meal when she learned i hadn’t eaten for a day. i asked her why.
“because, bubula, i know what hunger feels like.” she replied. i didnt quite understand the depth of that back then.
like how i didn’t understand the tremor in her hand when we walked past a group of teenage boys who made a hitler joke. how i didnt understand why she had to pull over on the side of the road to sob when she heard that a fellow holocaust survivor had died on the radio.
my grandmother was a fighter and a survivor and she was a woman who was strong as steel and as sweet as honey-dew. she was a woman who gave and gave and gave, a woman who deserved all the stars in the sky and pearls in the sea.
my grandmother was ripped from the arms of her family, she thrown into the deepest pit of hell, and she survived the flames. because my grandmother was a survivor of the holocaust.