November 01, 2015
By Susan Warsinger
I sometimes think about why I never met any of my grandparents. They lived in a small town in Poland called Kolomaya, which is now part of the Ukraine. My father told me that he left his family when he was 16 and immigrated to Germany because he did not want to join the Polish army. He acquired a job in a shoe store in Dusseldorf and made a life for himself. My mother also lived in Poland with her large family of seven brothers and sisters. She revealed to me when I was an adult, that since her family was poor and had many children, her mother gave her away to her well-off sister who lived in Viersen, Germany. This was my mother’s aunt and my great-aunt, Tante Anna. I was really astonished and had much compassion for my mother, because I had experienced this kind of separation from her during the Holocaust and I knew exactly what it felt like.
My mother explained that Tante Anna had married well, had a husband who was wealthy. They had two sons, and she had always wanted a girl so that she could spoil her with riches and love. When my mother was 19, Tante Anna and her husband, Onkel Heinrich, found a suitable young man for her to marry. This was my father. I hope that my father and mother kept in touch with their parents in Poland.
My parents settled in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, and when my brother Joe and I were very young we often took the train to visit Tante Anna in Viersen. We always looked forward to this excursion because we had so many delightful sights and experiences in store for us. Tante Anna was a very large person. Her hugs were warm and soft, and we felt enveloped in her flesh as she embraced and welcomed us to her home, which was a wonderful place for exploration. The house was on a busy street, and the front door opened to a long staircase that we had to climb in order to get to her living quarters. When we finally reached the parlor, I remember the warmth that came from the radiators hissing their welcome to us. Our objective always was to run quickly through this parlor in order to get to the short narrow steps down to the tremendous kitchen. In the corner was a black iron stove, and we knew that our great-grandmother would be sitting beside it.
She was tiny and spindly and dressed in black, the oldest person we had ever seen in our lives. She was probably in her seventies and much younger than I am now. We called her “die Hexe” because she had such a witch-like appearance. Her grey hair spiked out from a strange dark cloth that was bound around her head. I think her nails were very long. She was a quiet witch and allowed us to stare at her in amazement. She never reprimanded or scolded us for such behavior. She was Tante Anna’s mother and my grandmother’s mother. Her name was Hulda. She was always there in the morning when we got up for breakfast and still there when we went to bed. We never knew if, or when, she went to bed.
My great-grandmother’s place at the stove was important on the days that Tante Anna and the helpers in her house prepared the delicious tasting bulbenick. I remember the preparing and baking lasted all day. Huge piles of potatoes had to be peeled and grated and placed into immense bowls. Eggs, yeast, oil, and flour would be mixed into this batch, which had to rest for some time before it was ready to be placed on the prepared oiled trays that were about four times the size of cookie trays that I use in my home now. When the mixture had risen, everyone helped pour it onto the trays because the thickness had to be just right. If I remember correctly, I think it was about one-half of an inch. Then it was carried to the oven where our great-grandmother was in charge of opening the doors and allowing the precious load to be inserted and baked at just the correct temperature. During the baking process, there emerged such an aroma that it made our mouths water. The anticipation for eating this delicious feast was overwhelming.
When “die Hexe” finally gave the signal that it was ready to come out of the oven, we saw how browned and crispy it appeared, and all we wanted to do was partake of it immediately. The short time we had to wait for it to cool down seemed endless. The trays were laid out onto the tables in the kitchen and fresh butter was spread all over the repast. Then Tante Anna took out a huge knife and cut the bulbenick into square portions. My brother Joe and I were always the first ones to gorge ourselves in heavenly delight.
Next to the stove was a door that opened to a stairway that went down to a storeroom and then out to the yard. We loved chasing and frightening the chickens that were browsing and pecking and looking for food. My great aunt warned us that in order to have abundant and delicious eggs for the bulbenick, it was unwise to terrify the hens. The rooster that woke us up in the morning seemed very indifferent to our provocations and just strutted around the yard looking grand.
On rainy days we were allowed to play in the parlor. Onkel Heinrich gave us a box that contained a lot of money. In fact, the box contained so many German marks that we could not count them. We were told that we could play with these papiermarks as much as we wanted because this money had become worthless after World War I. All it was good for now was for children to play with. Tanta Anna’s bedroom was on the other side of the parlor. Sometimes she allowed me to get into her bed with her while Onkel Heinrich was snoring in his bed on the other side of the night table that separated them. The room was narrow and Rubens-like pictures were hanging on the two long walls. I wondered why Tante Anna was not embarrassed by these pink, naked, plump, and curvaceous ladies all around her. The bed was soft, with square feather pillows, and a comforter the size of a mountain covered us to keep us warm and cozy. Sometimes I asked her about my grandparents, but I cannot remember what she told me about them. Before the Holocaust, Tante Anna and Onkel Heinrich were superb substitutes for the grandparents I did not know. She made me feel loved.
I never saw my paternal grandparents. However, I do remember that my father’s parents sent us packages containing kosher beef sausages and sweets before the Germans invaded Poland. I tried to find out what happened to them. There is no record anywhere about them. From Father Patrick Desbois, who did much research on what happened to the Jews who lived in the part of Poland that is now the Ukraine, I have been able to guess that they were shot and buried in mass graves.
When the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened, I checked the records and found the names of Hulda Drimmer, Anna Knoll, and Heinrich Knoll. They died in the Riga concentration camp.
My daughter Terese’s middle name is after my great-grandmother, Hulda. My brother Ernest named his daughter after our mother and my granddaughter, Lyla honored Tante Anna when she became a Bat Mitzvah. My daughter Lisa’s middle name and the middle name of my brother’s son Craig are after my father’s parents. My brother Joe and I are named after my mother’s parents. They are all remembered.
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