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My Last Vacation

By Halina Yasharoff Peabody

Every visit we made to the country of our birth, Poland, ended the same way. We always said, “We will probably not be coming back again.” There seemed no reason for another visit since whatever remnants of my family that survived the Holocaust did not live in Poland any more.

But we seemed to always have unfinished “business” and found ourselves returning from time to time. The last two trips were very meaningful. Two years ago my sister and I took all of our children to our hometown of Zaleszczyki (now Ukraine) to attend a ceremony to place a monument on an unmarked grave. There were 600 people murdered and buried there during the first Aktion the Germans carried out in that town. It gave us solace that a kaddish was recited by a Rabbi for their souls and the town learned the sad story of what happened to the Jewish community that existed there before World War II.

The last trip that my sister and I undertook was for our mother. She managed to save both of us from Hitler’s jaws with heroism and guts. She would explain this by telling us that “sports develop courage.” Her main sport was swimming, which brought her fame as a very young girl. She became the champion of Poland in 1925, breaking a string of records in Poland and Europe. She also loved to ski in Zakopane and skated and rode horses. In fact, there was no sport she didn’t like or do well.

We survived the Holocaust posing as Catholics, having bought false papers from a priest and managed to escape from the ghetto in Tluste. Of course we couldn’t keep any of our belongings that could give us away. The beautiful gold figurine and the four-leaf clover on a gold chain were my favorite items from mother’s career in sports, but we had to leave behind everything we possessed in order not to give ourselves away. So all we had were memories of her stories of the wonderful time in her life during her teen years.

We settled in England after the war, but Mother was not well and she succumbed to cancer when she was only 47 years old. That was in 1956. Since then, we dreamed of finding out more about her exploits and honoring her, but we did not discover any information until a few months ago. Suddenly her records were discovered in Poland, and then we found out that there was going to be an exhibit on Jewish athletes in Poland and our mother would be prominently displayed. There was just one photograph of her team from those early years, but the organizers had no information about her family. So we provided the details we knew and decided to visit the exhibit that summer. We were welcomed by the director and had a chance to speak to a group of Polish teenagers with whom we toured the exhibit. We were impressed by how many Jewish athletes there had been in the twenties. Quite a few won Olympic medals.

It took many years to find our wonderful, brave mother’s story, and we are proud that she will not be forgotten. We feel that we achieved our goal of “bringing her back to life” in the only way we could.

©2015, Halina Yasharoff Peabody. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.