Monday, April 28, 2014

German Jewish Refugee--Aunt Martha's Story

It started with a box. A beautiful ornately painted black jewelry box that belonged to my Aunt Martha. I got her box along with many pictures and her piano.


When I first received the box I was afraid to it let alone open it for fear of breaking it. Finally I opened it to be pulled into memories by the smell of Aunt Martha and Pop-Pop Harry's house. Inside the box were a few pieces of Aunt Martha's jewelry and an envelope of pictures.

Under everything was the most amazing treasure of all...notebook paper with Aunt Martha's handwriting. I was so surprised by the first sentence:

I would like to tell my experience during my early years, then my mother made arrangement for me to go to England.
I didn't know Aunt Martha's story, at least not much. I knew she was from Germany and had gone to England during WWII which is what saved her life. I knew that her entire family had been killed during the Holocaust. 

Reading these pages gave me some of her story. My regret is there is no one to ask to fill in the missing pieces. I am hoping that maybe some day I'll be able to find the answers. I know she had a nephew that lived in Italy somewhere. For now I have what I can make out from her pages, unfortunately there are several words I can't figure out. Share these stories so we NEVER FORGET. 

I would like to tell my experience during my early years, then my mother made arrangement for me to go to England.
All went well in ________town in Germany where I was born until 1933 when the Gestapo stood in front of all Jewish owned stores, to prevent the customers from buying. Gradually we had to sell out by visiting the costumers in their house, which also had to stop now. 
We had to leave the small town, where I was born and raised and my father's family had lived for generations. My mother, & youngest sister and I moved to a larger city near by. My father had already passed on. There was a possibility to leave Germany, but there was no country to take us. Israel became a state much later. 
After the Kristallnacht (1939) England opened its door for some young girls & for children. English people took the children in their houses and raised them.
My mother contacted a cousin who lived in England. She was active in bringing people out of Germany. Finally in April 1939 I received my permit to come to England as a domestic. I was permitted to take 10 German marks out of Germany. I spoke very little English. My mother & sister took me to the station to leave for Holland and from there I got a ship to South Hampton. 
That was the last time I saw my mother & sister. I also had two older brothers & two older sisters. I never saw them or their children again. I have one surviving nephew in Italy. I visited him twice after he found me in the United States and he visited me once. 
I went to England hoping that my mother & sister would follow me but the war broke out and then there was no more hope. 
I had contact with my mother for a while through a cousin in Switzerland but that stopped when my mother was deported to a concentration camp. Meantime I worked as a housekeeper in Birmingham, sleeping in the shelter for 8 months during the Blitz. 
Later I decided to move to Leamington a smaller town. I received a permit to work in a munition plant. After living in England for 8 years I finally received my visa to come to the good old USA on the Queen Elizabeth in April 1947.
The last paragraph is crossed out, but she ends the writing with

                                             God Bless American and Protect Israel

Aunt Martha was my "step" grandmother. My (maternal) grandmother died in 1961 and my grandfather married Aunt Martha in 1965 (the year I was born).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"I Have Autism"

I heard him say those words in public for the first time ever. Z has never discussed the fact that he has autism with anyone except family. I've never discouraged any discussion; autism is just as much a part of our regular lives as breathing.

Our local ShopRite grocery store has been gearing up for the beginning of Autism Awareness Month (April, with April 2 being World Autism Day), for the past couple weeks, by selling papers with the iconic puzzle piece to put your name on, lanyards, pencils, etc to raise funds for Autism Speaks. Each time we have been in there Z would comment how great it is that they are doing all of that for autism. (mixed in with the usual scripteds "I love this ShopRite", "This ShopRite is my favorite store", "Everyone is so nice here", "This is the best store")

Z and I ran to the store for a quick trip for just a few things. As soon as we walked in my beef lover smelled the hot dogs and there was a woman saying "hot dogs, doughnuts, drinks (etc) for autism awareness" by a table. We walked over because Z wanted to know how much everything was since he had allowance money. He ordered a hot dog and soda and the lady, a store employee, started telling us how the money would go towards autism research, and Z thanked her so much for doing this and told her it really meant a lot to him. My gut feeling was that he wanted to tell her, and even though my heart hurt a bit with worry, I asked him, "do you want to tell her why you feel that way?"

With no hesitation, Z said "I'm Z (ok he said his whole name lol) and I have autism!"

The woman was obviously caught off guard, and fumbled just a bit before responding with "Really? Oh you don't look like you have autism. You seem very smart. Here, have a doughnut, my treat."


Okay, before you get too upset at her response, let me tell you that as far as I know, Z was so deeply basking in self-pride and amazement that he said it out loud that I don't think he realized what she said; unfortunately I heard and processed every word and while those words made me wince a bit, I followed Z's lead and just smiled.

This isn't the first time I've heard that type of presumption. Sometimes those types of words are used in a person's flawed thinking that they have to comfort me with an assumption that I wold be sad about autism. This was the first time it was said in front of Z. I know that she was simply attempting to say something nice. Here's a suggestion to those of you that might struggle for a quick but nice response in a similar situation, say "Hi Z, nice to meet you!" (a friend of mine commented that, it's brilliant isn't it ;) )

We embrace everything about his autism. Yes he struggles with so many everyday things, and YES of course I am human and have my moments when I lose my patience as do his siblings; but I would not change a thing! As Z himself has said, he has autism but autism doesn't have him.

Follow his lead and enjoy the view.

Turning Blue for Autism

Today is World Autism Day! Will you be showing your blue?

The statistics are staggering: 1 in 68 kids have autism.

People say that's because diagnosing is more common today than even 5 years ago.

I say it is harder than ever to get people to listen.

People say that's because "Most kids diagnosed aren't really autistic."

I say, walk a mile or even a minute in my shoes to see the reality of the struggles every day in our private lives.

I ask you to Light It Up Blue today to show acceptance of those with autism. Those with autism are blessings to our world and present amazing perspectives to otherwise insurmountable problems. (Think Temple Grandin)

For today, don't question the statistics, or the "legitimacy of diagnoses", or anything else about autism--just go blue for today.