My Mother’s Death

     I grew up in orphanages in Russia and Poland. I do not remember my father at all, and I only remember my mother’s death.

     When I was three years old, my family was sent to a labor camp in Komi, Northern Russia, after we fled from our hometown Wyszkow, Poland, which had been bombed. I remember that my mother was not with us for some time; she was sick in the hospital. When she came back, she acted very strange; for instance, she once tried to put my brother’s red boots on my feet. I was angry with her about that. I remember her wearing a kerchief over her shorn head. I remember her having dark hair. It was a dark freezing night, and my mother and I slept together in the same bed. I woke up because I had an urge to “go,” and the facility was outside. It was a freezing winter night, and I could not possibly go outside by myself. I started to tug on my mother’s sleeve to wake her up. She did not react. After some minutes of my desperate trying to wake her up, I started to cry and woke up the entire barrack. I remember the women’s reactions: some cried, wringing their hands, while other fainted. The next scene I remember was a raw pine box and people crying. My mother was twenty-eight years old, her husband had been killed, and she was left with two little orphans, my brother and me. Izaak, my mother’s youngest brother and my uncle, who was then a fourteen-year-old boy, went to the labor camp’s administrator to ask for help. We were sent to an orphanage. My uncle Izaak, now 81, lives in Denmark. When I visited him last year, he told me how my mother was buried in the frozen ground. I remember that, on one freezing day in the orphanage, a strange woman had come and taken my brother away on a small sleigh. I lost all trace of him for twenty-two years.

(January 9, 2008)

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