I was born, just months before D-day, into a family that thought it best not to talk about the devastation caused by the War. And especially how it had personally affected them. Yet, as I grew older, I became aware of a deep sadness that vibrated throughout the rooms of my grandparents home, where we often gathered, like the sound of a solo violin- its melody haunting and melancholy. I became a champion eavesdropper, leaning into doorways and hoping to find answers to why this shroud of gloom arrived like an unwelcome guest to even the most joyous of family’s celebrations. But not until I was a teenager did I learn that my grandfather, besides having two sisters and a brother who had immigrated with him to the U.S. in the 1920’s, had another brother who had chosen to remain in Vilna with his wife and daughter, a little girl named Rosha. On my grandparents last visit to the old country in 1937, they had begged my uncle to take his family and leave, but he had a good job with Shell Oil at the time, and was not convinced of the dangers that lay ahead. Two weeks after the German occupation of Vilna, Lithuania, they were forced out of their shtetel and marched into a synagogue that was set on fire by the Nazis. My grandfather was informed by a letter sent by the Judencrat, also known as The Jewish Counsel. The year, 1941. Photos of these lost relatives were never displayed on the walls of my grandfather’s luxurious home in a lush and wealthy neighborhood of Brooklyn. But among all the imported French furnishings, and hidden under the plush Persian rugs were the seeds of my family’s unrest, the festering guilt of their survival. Those they were not able to save.
Then one day, when already in her 90's, my grandfather's youngest sister handed me a tin box of old letters and photos. One was a telegram from Vilna announcing the birth of my cousin, Rosha. And then falling from an old passport, was a picture of a six-year-old girl. It was her, dressed in scuffed up shoes and a dainty white dress, a bracelet wrapped around her tiny wrist.She looked full of life and hope. The year was 1938.