I suppose
That most people
Have nothing to do
With the death of their family members
They die of natural causes
Or things beyond the grasp or control
Of human beings

I am not most people

I have to live
Every day with the fact
That most of my family was murdered
Because I failed to save them
Because I couldn’t convince them
To flee Poland
Before the Nazi armies came

I have to live
With the fact
That my argument wasn’t strong enough
For them
So I learned to be strong enough
For myself

In the end
I did leave
And that is why I am here
That is why I am alive
I am the lucky one

I left Lodz
The only home I had known
All my life
I left my nine siblings
My brothers and sisters
I left my father
And the family business
I left my mother
The one who gave me life

I tried to escape to Palestine
To avoid the growing
Disasters in Europe
But it was not my time
To go there yet
I was arrested by Germans
And somehow got away
But I was once again captured
This time by Russians
And was accused of being a British spy
So they sent me to a gulag

Most people have heard
About the German death camps
Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Ravensbruck
But there were different kinds of camps
Slave camps that slowed death
By work and malnutrition
And Siberian cold

After Germany attacked Russia
I was freed
And joined the Free Polish Army
Headed to fight in North Africa
Days before our ship was set to sail the Caspian Sea
I fell from a crane and was injured
And missed the boat

Once again I was a free man
By the age of 22
I had already learned
The numerous, complicated
Meanings of the word

I made my way to Uzbekistan
And a stranger, a Muslim took me in
Until I had recovered from
The Typhoid that had caused me
To collapse on the side of the road

When I grew passably healthy once again
I found a job as a guard at a bakery
And met Oscar, one of the bakers
I also met Lucy, the baker’s daughter
The love of my life

From that day my life changed
I saw the beauty of the world again
In Lucy’s smile
Or her freshly baked bread
I fell in love
With her sweetness and her strength
And for me,
The earth bloomed with flowers again

I married her there
With nothing more to promise
Than my heart
And hope for a future

But amid all the bliss and happiness
I never forgot the family I left behind
Of which only two members survived
My sister, Gertrude and nephew, Joseph

But life goes on
I tucked the memories away
In a sacred, secret little corner of my heart
To be remembered

And in those memories,
I would sometimes reach in
And pull out a thought
Or an image, or an emotion
Like the steady, low voice of my father
Leaning over a book or scroll
As I absorbed his knowledge
Like a sponge absorbs water
Or the laughter of my siblings
Ten of us, giggling
Or my mother’s smile
Lovely and generous

But most often
My memories are of bread
Of Challah on Friday nights
My mother’s hands sweetening the dough
More than flour or yeast ever could
Or of Lucy
Leaning over a creaking wooden table
In a government-run bakery in Uzbekistan
Kneading dough with her thin, bony fingers
And that is when I look over to the kitchen
And see her there
Mixing, tasting, baking
And I thank God
For these simple, extraordinary blessings

Yoseph Simcha Goldwasser (z”l) was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1920. He survived a Soviet gulag, and found shelter during WWII in Uzbekistan. He died in Florida in 2007. He is Nili Ivan’s great grandfather.