By now we are all submerged into this world-wide pandemic of Covid-19. Most of us have never thought we would experience something like this in our lifetimes, well at least I never thought I would. I don’t know about you, but it is impossible to go an hour without thinking about it, having a sudden panic wash over me or being reminded that this is our new normal. At least for the time being.
As I plan out our every meal, trying to ration food for the four of us (not easy to do with a fifteen and a twenty year old who won’t stop eating), a repeating thought keeps running through my mind: is this a fraction of what my grandparents felt like trying to survive the war and the Holocaust? Yes I know that what WE are going through is nothing, and I mean nothing compared to what people went through during WW2, and other genocides. And the only part I find myself relating to is the food aspect, or the lack of it. Don’t get me wrong, we are not lacking food in the least. Even before this pandemic hit I have always been somewhat of a hoarder as it pertained to food. Nothing else, just food. Besides my grandmother nobody else in my family is like that, my mom has always told me that I am exactly like my grandma. Til the day she died she had a fridge, a freezer and pantry stuffed with various food items. For whatever reason, her freezer was always packed with bread. Whenever we asked her why she is hoarding bread, her response was always the same: “You never know, it’s for a rainy day.”
Honestly, if you know any Russian Jews and especially older ones, they are all the same way. It’s a generational trait. My grandmother just like so many of her generation who grew up in the former Soviet Union, was eighteen years old when the Nazis invaded Russia. I remember her telling us that she knew her life as she knew it was over the day she heard about it on the radio in her hometown of Dniepropetrovsk in Ukraine. And her life was never the same.
The day the German army invaded Ukraine my great-grandfather went out to the back, placed his right hand onto the chopping block, grabbed an axe and chopped off his thumb. He knew he was going to be drafted to fight for the Red Army, but knowing that it would mean certain death for his wife and six children; there was no way they would survive the war without him. So instead he packed up their horse and a small wagon with essentials, (which means completely different things to us) and set out to get ahead of the German army. For almost four years of the war they moved from town to town, asking for shelter and food in exchange for cooking, cleaning and doing various jobs in return. He would send in my great-grandmother to knock on doors while him and the children stayed behind; she was blonde with green eyes and didn’t look like a typical Jew which was their only saving grace. Ukrainians loved to turn Jewish people over to the Nazis, but so did every other nationality as well. Two of their children ended up dying from Cholera during the war. On my dad’s side of the family everyone is from Latvia which was part of the Soviet Union during that time. The women and children were killed fairly fast, and the only two people to survive were my grandfather and his father. The only reason they survived was because they knew how to work on Nazi tanks and machinery.
So as I sit here wondering whether I will get my deliveries of food on time, I also think about my grandparents. Is this the same uncertainty that they felt? Only times one hundred of course. Is this how it was to be absolutely terrified that your children may not have a meal that day, or if they did what would happen the next day? How did anyone ever sleep, how did they not lose their minds completely? I remember asking my grandfather once about it, and why he was always so positive and happy after the experience he survived? I remember asking him why he wasn’t mad or bitter or wanting revenge. You see he was a career military man, having only an eighth-grade education and needing to provide for the family my grandfather joined the Red Army at an early age. He escalated quickly in the ranks and became a Captain; was involved in many missions, one of them was being a sniper on skis and in charge of de-mining the fields. During the war he saw a lot of horror, soldiers being blown up right in front of him, his own brother missing in action (to this day they never found his body), not to mention his other sibling being killed by Stalin before the war. Yet he somehow maintained his dignity, sanity and the ability to see the good in people. I honestly don’t know how and know for sure that I would not have turned out as well.
His answer to me was this: not all people are evil, not everyone hates others and we survived for a reason; that reason is to warn our future generations that ignorance and lack of education leads to wars and genocide. Even though he only finished eighth grade, he preached about how important education was and begged us all to stay in school.
As hard as this pandemic has been on all of us, we truly have nothing to complain about. Every time I want to cry or get down about how scary life is right now, I remind myself about my grandparents and how much worse they had it. Can you imagine not being able to feed your babies, or having to hide in order to stay alive? None of us know what that’s like, and we have to remember that we live in a First world country, we have it much better than many other countries. We may not agree with our politicians or government, but we are still in a much better situation than most.
We are fine, we will be fine. Grocery stores will continue to stay open, restaurants will continue to offer deliveries and pickups, we will be fine as long as we all stay home and allow this virus to die out! Stay home, stay healthy and enjoy this time with your kiddos. This might be the only time we ever get to have them home with us, especially those of us whose kids are gong away to college. I am truly trying to soak up every minute of having mine at home. It’s not easy because he can be very annoying at times, as all children are but knowing he will be gone this summer for good is making it easier to get through this.