The woman in the photo is my mother—a small woman with a huge brain, tremendous courage, and a slight deficit with the Maternal Instinct demanded of her in the mid-20th Century.
She was the daughter of Ukrainian parents who fled pogroms where Cossacks played a nice game of “throw the Jewish baby in the air and catch it on your spear.” I am in awe of the work the Ukrainians have done to diminish their anti-Semitism and elect Zelenskyy, himself a grandchild of Hitler fleeing Jews.
In her thirties she needed to go back to the dirt scrabble town of her Ukrainian ancestors, 30 miles outside of what was then Kiev. She flew to Moscow and boarded a train for Kiev on the eve of WWII.
The conductor gave her dire warnings: She wouldn’t survive this trip and should go home. I can’t repeat in polite company what she told the conductor. She got off the train at Kiev, got on a horse-drawn carriage and rode to Starov-Constantinov, where her ancestors came from.
Alone after the cart pulled away, she was run at by a very old woman yelling, “You’re Sima’s daughter.” How the hell did this old woman know that? Because she was a Shabbas Goy, the women who nursed Jewish babies on the Sabbath. She had nursed my grandmother, recognizing my mother from that long ago time.
My mother came home safe.
The war started, and the Nazis destroyed her village.
And decades later, I still remember the story — and the strength it takes to survive history.