The Grand Adventure

I don’t have the foggiest clue what this is going to be about. This happens to me sometimes, I just start writing with no idea what’s going to come of it. It’s like jumping in the car with no idea where you might end up. You just take off – windows down, radio up, speeding off into an overused metaphor.

I’ve often found myself comparing writing with driving; and, for some reason, when I write I really do feel like I’m moving. Perhaps it’s the sense of adventure I get when I start putting words together – I see these sentences and ideas taking shape and becoming something that didn’t exist seconds ago. Suddenly, I’m swept away into this world of my own invention. It’s a place populated by my imagination; nothing and no one is here without an invitation. My mind races through this brand new world of its own accord, carrying me along for the ride.

I write a lot of fiction – short stories, a play, I’ve even tried my hand at screen writing. I’d start writing, usually in the evening, and, often, I wouldn’t stop until dawn. As I worked, I’d find myself pushing back from the desk, standing up to stare at the computer screen from a different angle. I’d pace the room with my fingers in my hair, reading a print out of the last few pages, so excited about what would happen next that I could barely sit still long enough to write it.

Needless to say, it took a lot of energy to finish a project.

I’ve found that creativity is almost a possession; the work takes over, and you’re not your own again until it’s done. For better or worse, you’re bound to culminate the idea or it will never let you be. It may sound a little scary, but it’s the biggest thrill in the world.

So, when I sit down to write with no idea what’s going to happen, it’s electric. I know I’m in for the ride of my life and there’s no telling where I’ll end up.

Hidden Child

Sonja Dubois is one of our last firsthand links to the Holocaust. She is a member of a generation of European Jews that has been called the Hidden Children. These young children were given up by their parents in hope that they would be able to survive, even if their parents did not. Many of the hidden children assumed new identities; most never saw their parents again.

In 1942, Sonja’s parents were ordered to report to a train station for “re-settlement” to a holding camp in the Northeastern part of the Netherlands. In reality, it was nothing more than a stopover on their journey to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Sonja was 21 months old. Sonja: “As hard as it is to say this, I hope for early death; they went to the gas chambers sometime between August and December of 1942. So they were gassed in Auschwitz, along with the rest of my family – I’m the only survivor.”

Sonja’s only link to her lost family was an oil painting that she’s had since she was hidden away. It is a dark painting, full of greens, browns and dark hues. This signature is in black. Sonja had never known who made the painting, only that it had belonged to her family.

In 2000, she made contact with a distant cousin, whom she had never before known existed. When they met, she asked him about the painting. “I asked him if he knew anything about this painting; I told him it supposedly had belonged to my parents, and asked if he knew any details. And he told me ‘This is your daddy’s signature.’ So, he [her father] had been with me all along.”

Sonja’s father was an amateur painter, with ties to the Dutch artistic community. When he and his wife were ordered to report to the train station, they decided to leave their daughter with a family friend, a painter. At first he tried to find a safe place to hide Sonja; there were many Jewish children hidden in farms or country estates. But Sonja’s guardian was uncomfortable with the situations he was able to find and didn’t want to put Sonja in any further danger. So he began working with an underground agency to find foster parents for her.

Sonja’s foster mother was a Red Cross volunteer. She and her husband were unable to have biological children of their own, and had made it known that if there were any children who needed to be taken care of, they would be willing to take them in.

“We were really kind of the answer to each other’s prayers,” Sonja says.

*

Sonja was raised with no awareness of her Jewish heritage. It wasn’t until her foster family immigrated to the U.S. in 1952 that she was told of her parents sacrifice and her adoption by the only parents she’d ever known. “My parents died when they were 29 years old,” Sonja says. “They let me go to rescue me.”

It took a long time for Sonja to fully understand her parents’ sacrifice. “For years I didn’t think of it that way. I felt they should have taken a chance on life and hidden, as so many others did – unsuccessfully. It took my maturity to understand that this was a sacrifice for them. When I became a grandmother, when I saw my 2 year old grandson crying for his mommy – can you imagine giving a child up at that age?”

Sonja now understands the unreal choice her parents faced in 1942. “My parents didn’t stand a chance at that time and they knew it. They did the bravest thing on earth.”

*

It’s been only nine years since Sonja began sharing her story. “I’ve been trying to find myself for my whole life. It took a long time to even attempt to put the puzzle together. It’s a lonley story; and it’s painful.”

She partly made the decision to begin telling her story because she wanted to memorialize her birth family. “I’m the only way people know these folks existed; I’m the only person that can speak for their bravery.” But she also began sharing her message as a warning to be on guard the against racism, hatred and intolerance she sees every day. “The holocaust isn’t over,” she says. “Racism and prejudice are still real.”

Sonja focusses on reaching young people, and has had many classroom speaking engagements. “I want to encourage young people to take a stand everyday, in whatever way they can. I focus on what each person can do to counteract intolerant attitudes. There are many opportunities to make a difference. The Nazis got help everywhere they went; and silent bystanders became collaborators.”

And so Sonja tells her story to inspire a new generation of brave souls who will take a stand and renounce an attitude of apathy and impotent inaction. Her story must be told as part of the struggle to eradicate the spirit of Holocaust that threatens all people of good will.

I walked grimly

I walked grimly,
bile rising to burn my throat,
the rage of nations pounding
my head.

I walked slowly, staring at the ground;
feeling each step: foot, ankle, knee;
the thud of my joints, the methodical
plod of life.

I passed a field.
A mare and her colts grazed
A midnight snack.
Their hooves struck the earth
with a solid thump;
they snorted in content
as they chewed mouthfuls
of grass.

I walked on.
My pace quickened;
I gulped air;
the rage of nations
subsided before
the joy of life.

Abbey Vineyard

After a rain, blood drips from the vines
Onto upturned clover tongues.

Or so it seems to the old monk
Who tends the abbey grapes.

As he walks slowly
Down the glistening rows of fruit,
He stops and stoops
To lift a fallen branch,
Cradle it in his arms,
Return it to its proper place.

The harvest is a bitter blessing.
Grapes are crushed.
They become
The wine of eternal life.

A lover’s vision

Like the sun’s unfailing journey
from east to west through the azure sky:
I will come to you and you to me
and flocks of inky ravens will fly
above the stubbled fields of wheat
which sprawl to the edge of the earth.

The wind will run with child’s feet
and dissonantly sing the birth
of winter. Rusty brown loam
will perfume the air and I will be
satisfied. A pilgrim come home,
rewarded for his piety.

My dream fades, leaves mist in my eyes.
This fool’s solace never satisfies.

If ever my love grows cold

If ever my love grows cold; should snow encrust
my heart, remind me then on that winter day
of this tulip-filled afternoon. If rust
collects on my thirsty throat, then you may
wash it clean with singing and good wine.

If my taste ever turns to things less sweet
than your kiss, touch your lips softly to mine
like the golden whisper of wind on wheat.

If my senses fail and your beauty
can no longer light my days, do not fear.
For I’ve fixed you in mind; and my duty:
to nurture you in my inmost eye an ear.

Though chance and change bend all men to their will,
love stands outside them; they do us no ill.

Rhein-​Main Airfield, December, 1944

The three of them stood, waiting, at dawn;
pilot, cryptographer, guard,
watching cloudy, dull-red fingers extend
over earth. Each was wrapped in a drab
green coat and cloaked in his thoughts.
Breath hung from their mouths and nostrils.

The pilot stared at the bloody sun,
uncomfortable with feet on ground.
The cryptographer leaned on a doorframe
cooly; his eyes half-hooded but wary.
The guard shifted from foot to foot, searched
his coat for a cigarette.

As he pulled out the pack his hand brushed
the page that lay heavy against his chest:
Make sure the code-man gets on the plane.
If attacked, do not let him be taken alive.

After a Storm

The sky is television gray today.
City streets are slick and shiny;
buildings drenched with soot coughed from clouds.
No rainbows break the drudge today; instead
I found one fetal,
dying
splashed in black puddles inside
this parking garage.
The sky is television gray today; halogen
light throws skylines into harsh black and white
relief.
Another rerun.

I feel the world

I feel the world passing away.
It slips like sand through a child’s hand,
as she sits on the beach building castles.

She sits, building castles; the sea roars
behind her; she lends it no ear,
intent on her work.

We learn to fight chaos when we are young;
to build sand castles, and pretend not to notice
the ocean, sitting, waiting.