When I was working on My Dear Ones: One Family and The Final Solution, among the most painful documents I found were letters between my father’s uncles after the war.
Ernst had fled to New York with his family; Uncle Alfred was in Jerusalem. He would be killed in the attack on the convoy to the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University in 1948.
Their letters circle the question: where are the others? What happened to their eldest sister, Sophie Redlich, who’d felt safe in Czechoslovakia? And their other sister, Trude, in Poland? Most important, was there any news of their mother, Regina, for whom, despite all their efforts, the vital emigration papers had arrived too late?
They explore the contours of the gaps. Twenty Jews have returned to Holleschau, from where Regina was deported: she’s not among them. A Redlich family is listed among the survivors: it’s not the same Redlich. How Alfred must have been shaken when, one day in 1946, a letter arrives, addressed in his sister’s handwriting. But she’s not alive. It’s her last communication before she’s transported, a final testament given in secret to a non-Jewish neighbour and posted after the war.
All this is in my mind as I call T, a refugee from Afghanistan who stayed with us before the pandemic through Refugees at Home. His sister is in London too, married with young children. But their parents? The wider family?
Have you heard anything?
Do you know where they are?
They moved to Kabul to be safer. I’m very worried.
And now, these terrible, shocking, appalling bombings at the airport.
Rachel Ellison, who worked training women in Afghanistan some years back, wrote:
Last night an Afghan bus driver in London rang me to ask me to help evacuate his brother-in-law. He is in hiding in Kabul, with his wife and five daughters. Like many, he cannot reach the airport. His emails to the British authorities have gone
During Elul and the Holydays we read Psalm 27 morning and night. It’s a Psalm of longing to be close to the home of our soul. But it’s different verses which call to me now:
God will hide me in God’s shelter in the day of evil…
Do not give me over to the will of my enemies…
‘Stress how close the Afghan and Jewish experiences are,’ Zarlasht Halaimzai, herself a refugee from Afghanistan, and Gabriella Brent of the Refugee Trauma Initiative tell me: generations of anguish, high aspirations, the longing to give to society. The determination to survive and live.
Zarlasht tells her mother about her ‘hopelessness and despair at what keeps happening to people like us.’ She replies:
‘No matter what they face, people have to survive. We have no other choice.’
Psalm 27 concludes:
Be strong; may God put strength in your heart. Reach out in hope to God…
But it’s never been the Jewish way just to leave matters to heaven. What can we do to help and give hope to those who need it, to strengthen the determination in all our hearts?
For practical ways to help click here.