One day, when I was home for the holidays and I had some time on my hands, I did a search on the Shoah Foundation holocaust database. Much to my astonishment I found my grandmothers's sister, my great aunt, who I was named after. After all of this time, all it took to find out what happened to her was typing in her name.
As the story goes, my aunt Rachel decided at the last minute not to make the attempt to escape from Poland with my grandmother. She didn't want to to be separated from her fiancee. The plan was that she was to wait for his family to leave and meet my grandmother in London as soon as possible. That time never came. My grandmother heard from a number of sources that Rachel was shot by nazis trying to flee.
That was the story...until my discovery in December. According to a record submitted from Israel in 1955, a women who identified herself as Rachel's aunt, a woman we did not know existed, declared that a Rachel with the same surname, same birth date, same birth place, and same parents names, died at Majdanek - a concentration camp. She was 28 years old. I'd heard the name Majdanek many times. Apparently it's the most well-preserved of camps; I read somewhere it could be up and running in two business days.
It doesn't change the outcome, but every piece of information means something. For one, it probably means I have more relatives in Israel. I wish my grandmother was alive to know.
The next day, I went into my mother's bathroom looking for eye make-up remover. I noticed a small photograph that looked like it had been cut down, at some point, to fit a frame. It was tucked under the lower right hand corner of the bathroom mirror. I'd seen it a million times but I guess I'd never really looked closely. It's a photograph of my mother and uncle visiting my grandmother, taken in the late 90's, not long before my grandmother died. They're in the garden of the psychiatric hospital where she spent the last years of her life. My mother looks tired and my uncle, uncomfortable in a button down shirt that had long been too tight. No one's happy. My grandmother was always so well dressed, and her hair always dyed to the rich brunette of her youth. She was beautiful, but in this photograph she's frail, hair a dull grey, and her mouth is pulled down at the corners and slightly open. It reminds me of the Munch painting The Scream.
I wondered why my mother picked this one to look at every day while she brushes her teeth, washes her face, puts on her make-up. And then it comes to me. It's a reminder for her to never be too happy; never have too much fun.
Maybe I can replace it with something nice, I thought. It's time. The bill has been paid in full.
I wanted to take it down. So very badly.