A cloud slowly and gently envelops her memory. Lately, every time is like the first time for my mother.
Regardless of the day, whether she feels chipper and is ready to walk a mile or barely drags herself out of bed, there is one thing you can count on from Sally Horwitz … she will tell anyone and everyone, over and over again, how proud she is of her three children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. But these daily pronouncements go beyond a mother’s usual boastfulness. They have become my mother’s mantra, her personal message of triumph against Hitler, the Nazis and their collaborators who sought to eradicate Jewry from the face of the earth.
Mother, father, brother, uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins; she once could name each of the more than 90 family members among the Six Million who perished in the Holocaust. Today, she can only remember a handful. Five, my mother and her two sisters included, survived.
To endure the physical and psychological trauma of separation, beatings, starvation and slave labor that robbed her of most of her teenage years required a combination of fortitude, luck and the kindness of strangers. One risked her life to provide her with morsels of food. Another hid her temporarily. Yet another intervened physically with a guard and his German Shepherd.
To lose virtually everything and everyone, stare evil and baseless hatred in the face and then push a re-start button as a refugee in America on a life forever traumatized by nightmares demanded an inner strength and resiliency too difficult to imagine. And then, after all of that, to marry, have the physical ability to reproduce and retain enough sanity to attempt to be a good parent…
While she may no longer recognize old photographs of her children, nephews, nieces and others who mean so much to her, and while she may become confused reciting her telephone number and street address, my mother’s memories of life in Poland before and during the Holocaust remain vivid.
So, on this Mother’s Day, Sally Horwitz continues to share the story of her survival and her personal triumph with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And she continues to be proud of each one of us, multiple times a day, without intending to repeat herself. Due to the miracle of her existence, and by extension mine, she has earned the right to say it as often as she wants. Happy Mother’s Day, mom.