Tuesday, August 09, 2011

My 100 Children

Sometimes I feel that I have at least 100 children, maybe more. But that's ridiculous.

We find our inspiration wherever we can.  Some of us have to slow down, get in touch with the old time religion, whichever one that might be.

As a Jew, I'm lucky, because my religion is really, really old. And when a religion is old and historically rich, there are many, many stories. There are so many they become one long story if you're Jewish. They are sad sometimes, but often, inspirational.

Today was Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av, rhymes with wish-above).  Av is a Hebrew month. Most people haven't a clue what this means, Tisha B'Av, and that's okay, it won't be on the test.  Suffice it to say that it is a fast day commemorating several historical Jewish tragedies.

To name a few:
the destruction of both holy Jewish temples (where the Moslem Dome of the Rock now rests),

the papal decree to start the Crusades (otherwise known as: Let's get this murderous party going!),

the expulsion from Spain

and the start of World War I, a war that many feel set the stage for the Holocaust.
Twenty-five hours with no food, no water, it's not an easy fast.  We begin an hour before sunset, end the fast a few minutes after sundown the following day with food and drink that never tasted as good.  We sit on the floor in the synagogue, or on low stools, and as mourners chant poems, lamentations, the sadness of our people.  The Holocaust is still fresh for our parents, for survivors everywhere, and there are many stories to tell and we're telling them. 

The best part is watching sad movies as a community, and everyone likes a sad movie.  The day seems to drag on forever, otherwise.

One of the funniest guys I know, serious on Tisha B'Av, linked on Facebook to

Why saving one's life like saving the entire world, a clip from the Spielberg movie.

 Worth the minute or two, for sure.
My friend thinks it's the best movie scenes ever, maybe because a man breaks into tears, I'm not sure, maybe because the message is so sublime.  I looked for more Schindler, only found the trailer.

Many of us blow off work to see Holocaust movies on this backwards holiday.  But this is not the only advantage to calling in sick (which is no lie, you feel pretty sick).  Going to work would be bad because no one can work without (a) caffeine, (b) snacks!

So far, nothing inspiring, right?  So try this:

A woman has lost her family in the Holocaust. Parentless, but an adult, she decides that she will parent 100 lost, parentless Jewish children who survive the war, too. She discovers dozens of orphaned Jewish children holed up the Jewish Committee Center in Krakow.  They have found their way to this place and she has found her way to this place, and her vision is about to come true.

Years later, Lena Kuchlar Silberman's biological daughter makes sure that this important story be told. The documentary, My 100 Children, patches together saved lives. We hear tapes of Kuchlar Silberman interviewing her "children", now adults. They are asked what they remember of those days, the days before finding a safe home with Lena in Zakopane, Poland, after the war. They say things like,
"I was so alone."

"I had no one."

"I knew no one."

"I had not a friend, not a relative.  No one."

"I had no one for as long as I could remember."
Being a child, every day with no guidance, is forever.

Being a holocaust survivor is not entirely like being tossed into a forest to fend for yourself, like a feral Child, born to be raised by dogs or wolves. But in many situations, indeed, these children hid in forests, in basements, in closets, cellars, in sewers. And they had witnessed more killing, more violence than they might have, had they been born in the woods.

Lena Kuchlar Silberman, became their mother. She "brought them back to life" in a Polish orphanage.  Growing antisemitism and violence in those post-war years forced her to smuggle the children out of Poland, first to France then Israel.

We hear the stories.  One little girl makes her way from the camps to take the train to Krakow.  She is crowded into a station with hundreds of people. She is weak, starving, febrile, unable to move another muscle.  She collapses in a corner of the station.  A priest sees her and asks her why she is sitting like this in the corner. She must go.

She tells him, I can't move. 

He says, You must get up.  The train is coming.  You must get on the train! 

She whispers, I can't get up

He begs, Try!  Please try! 

She tries to get up and she falls.  Her legs are swollen, she is very ill.  He picks her up, throws her over his back, carries her to the train. 

The identity of the mysterious priest is revealed at the end of the film.

Many stories. One about emotional blackmail. When it becomes too dangerous for the children to stay in Poland (antisemitism rabid), one of them refuses to leave without his sister.  She is living with a Christian family as a Christian and has no interest in leaving.  Her brother tells her that he will not leave without her, that he, as a Jew, will be killed if he stays.  She leaves with him. Emotional blackmail works.

Three of the meanest, most hard-core bullies, Lena's most difficult children, are judges in the orphanage.  The children run the disciplinary system, they try one another for misbehaving.  Either Lena thought they would learn to become humane with responsibility, or they chose the method themselves, I can't remember.  But they mete out justice, lots of it, justice their mother wouldn't approve.  But in the end, she changes them.  They change because she won't leave them, not even after emigrating to Israel, not until she is sure that each and every one of them is emotionally stable, can tolerate the separation.

And the worst day of their lives is the day of her death. 

Years later, interviewed in this documentary, the three judges are asked about their angry, vengeful childhood personalities. What made them this way, so mean, so cocky, so cold, so seemingly incorrigible?

The now adult children reply (and I'm paraphrasing if not rewriting the script),
all that loss,
all that loneliness,
the fear of death,
the running,
the hiding,
the violence everywhere,
no one caring.
This is the baggage they carried with them to Lena Kuchlar's orphanage. So much rage. It had to go somewhere. We would be angry, too.

An argument for benevolent, kind parenting, living, and an example of courage we just don't hear about anymore.

I don't know about you.  But I was inspired. 



Pink Hollyhock said...

Thank you for your own constant inspiration, therapydoc.

therapydoc said...

And thank you for yours. And everyone's. What I should have said is that I find inspiration in every survivor story I hear, and the process of recovery, growth, in general. That's what keeps us in the game. The stories usually aren't Holocaust survivor stories, either. You all know what I'm talking about.

Ms. Adventuress said...

Wow...love this post. And love the new look of your site. It's been a while (been busy). It's good to visit here again.

Gauteng Rehab Centre said...

Great Post! I also found it inspiring.

Living in Joburg, South Africa I get to live amongst people who are so much less fortunate we I ma and this serves as a constant reminder of just how lucky my life has been.

I sometimes wonder how best I could utilize what I have to help others that have literally nothing and think of the part in the the 'Schindlers LIst' movie where he's leaving in his car and everyone comes to say thank you. He says "but this ring on my finger - this was 3 lives and that car, is 8 lives, and etc ect" Heart Wrenching!

Thanks for reminding me again.

Big Love to you from South Africa!

Mona Stott said...

Wow great post

julia said...

This is one of the inspiring post. one can not stop to end it. awesome

Irvine individual therapist

whatittakestobeme.org said...

So moving. Thank you.