I am from Poland
From the town of Przemyśl
Where my family has lived
For generations

But I am also from Uzbekistan
From rice warehouses
And starvation
And cold metal guns
And Communism

I am also from Israel
From the promised land
And a country of refugees
Returning to their true homeland

I am also from America
From New York, and Massachusetts, and Florida
From old age homes
And apartments
And shacks
And holes in the ground
And all the other places
Where I slept at night

I am from bread
From rising yeast
And kneading dough
Both in the palaces
Of Polish royalty
And later in bakeries
Owned by the USSR

I am from my family
From the Engel name
And the sons of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

I am from the dough
Wrapped around my waist
In an attempt
At thievery
So I could feed
My little brother
I am from the lies
I told the guard that day
About my husband in the war
And my four children

I am from the black market
From rice and flour
And rifles and middlemen

I am from survival
From instinct and hunger
And fear
That kept me alive

I am from cleaning
Communist houses
And working until
My hands bled
But still going to sleep
With a rumbling stomach
I am from my teeth falling out
Declaring my mouth an unfit place to live
Even in a body so young
As fourteen years old

I am from happiness
From Joe, Simcha
From night shifts
And stolen kisses
And a wedding so simple
It was decorated with our love

I am from the gulags
And the camps
From cold winters and hot summers
From tuberculosis
And malnutrition

I am from the diseases that
So thoroughly wrecked
The continent of Europe
The pandemics of evil
That took 85 million lives
In 85 million different ways
Nazism and Communism

I am from the roots I grew
In two different lands
And the knowledge
I learned too late
That no amount of
Milk and honey
Replaces memories.
No amount
Of friends
Replaces family
No amount of
The bitter taste
Of captivity
No amount of
Changes the

I am from the little mental souvenirs
Gifted to me by the
Nazis and the Red Army

I am from my mother’s dying breath
And the first cries of my sons
And with my children,
The second generation
Of survivors,
I start to heal.
Heal in the way,
That wearing long-sleeves,
Can trick your mind into
Believing your scars aren’t there.
I heal in the fact
That I have become
The missing piece of
My own puzzle
That I can be for my sons
What I had for so little time
A mother

With the third generation
I heal some more
And I accept the
Eternal scars and bruises
But never talk of them.
So I become a grandma
An apple-pie making
Hugs and kisses dispensing
And it is strange to think
That these hands
That roll out the dough
And slice the apples
Are the same hands that
Suffered as they baked bread
For Stalin’s armies
The same hands
That held my mother’s
Still-warm body
As all the warmth left

Many of us
Do not live to see
The fourth generation
But I am one of the lucky ones
I have always been
One of the lucky ones
To the fourth generation
I become a little old lady
With wispy, bleached hair
Always sitting in her armchair
In that corner of her living room
Feet propped up
Watching a game show
I am quiet
Perhaps a little frail
But only in the way
That being in my 90s
Makes me fragile
They do not know
How a mountain of strength
Can lie in the smallest of hills

My great-grandchildren
Are told my story
But they have trouble believing it
They cannot comprehend
The systematic murder
They cannot fathom
The starvation and the death
They cannot realize
That the truth is the hardest
Pill to swallow
My great-grandchildren
Take it with glasses of water
And spoonfuls of sugar
But they can never understand
However hard they try
And they do try

But they learn their lesson too late
And I have already gone

So that is why there will be
Poems and stories
And songs and quotes
And conversations and paragraphs
Because we remember
And we miss you
We miss the parts of you we knew
And the ones that we were told
But matter just as much
And never again
Will we take the time
We have with someone for granted
Because after all,
Yesterday is history,
Tomorrow is a mystery,
But today is a gift,
And that’s why we call it the present.

Lucy Engel was born in Przemyśl, Poland, and fled to Uzbekistan at the age of 14 to escape the Nazis. Her mother, Hannah, died there. Lucy, her father, and brother survived. In Uzbekistan, she met her husband, Yosef Goldwasser. After the war, she and Yosef returned to their hometowns in Poland looking for family. They found no one. Later they found out that all but two had been murdered. In 1950, they moved to Israel, and ten years later immigrated to America with their two sons. Lucy passed away in Florida in 2018, and lived to know all five of her great-grandchildren, including the eldest, Nili.