Jewish World Review April 16, 2004 / 26 Nissan, 5764

Felice Cohen

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Stories to be told | Holocaust Remembrance Day, also called Yom Hashoah, is traditionally observed by lighting six candles in memory of the six million Jews who died. The day is marked by singing and praying — and by survivors talking about their experiences. This year, Yom Hashoah is scheduled for April 18. For me, though, it came a week early.

My grandparents came to New York from Florida for Passover, and over the weekend my entire family gathered together. At one point, my grandfather, Papa Murray, invited me to join him on a walk. I'm his oldest grandchild, and we have a special bond.

"How is de book coming along?" he asked in his thick European accent. The Book, always The Book. Years ago, when I was still in college and clueless about my future, we started to write The Book. Papa Murray, a Holocaust survivor, recounted every detail about life before, during and after the Holocaust. During my visits to Brooklyn and Boca Raton, we spent countless hours remembering.

I worked on The Book between freelance jobs and full-time positions. The story was about a young woman discovering her family's secret past and coming to terms with her own future. I sent it to publishers — an experience that reminded me of fishing. Cast out a proposal. Wait. Then, suddenly, a bite! But while I was reeling in my catch, 9/11 bit down and severed my line. All seemed lost. Life had changed, and so had my goals. In turn, I forgot about The Book. But my grandfather didn't.

"You're writing again," Papa Murray continued, not giving up, never giving up. "You must know someone to publish my story." His eyes grew moist, as they always do when he speaks of his past. But this time it was more than that. The Book, it seemed, had become his passion. "De story of de pig," he said. "People should know." For years, my grandfather never spoke of the camps, the beatings and the hunger. Now, it seemed, he couldn't keep quiet.

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"De SS woke us one night," Papa Murray said, his eyes glazed over. "We stood outside in a circle, barefoot, freezing. An SS dragged a prisoner into de middle and stuck a potato in his mouth and shot him. Tying him to de back of a truck, dey dragged him, shouting, 'See! A pig is more important dan a Jew!'"

I had heard this before, but each time it burns deeper into my psyche. Not just the story, but the guilt from not finishing The Book. "In order for dis not to happen again," Papa Murray added, "we can't forget. My whole family vas killed and I made a new one. I don't vant to lose them too."

Back at the house we encountered the smell of home-cooked food and a gaggle of kids huddled around a showing of "Shrek" on a 65-inch screen. My grandfather kissed me on the cheek and joined the kids. He lifted one of the small children and sat on the couch, the child nestled in his lap. He didn't understand the movie, but he didn't care. He had all he needed. My own eyes now moist, I vowed to finish The Book.

Comment on JWR contributor Felice Cohen's column by clicking here.


03/31/04: Shades of gray
03/23/04: Rejoice, ‘preppy’ is back
03/16/04: Taking a bad shot

© 2004, Felice Cohen