Start of Main Content

Purple Oleander

By Louise Laurence-Israëls

Selma was my best friend. She spent three years with my family and me in hiding in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, during the Holocaust, from 1942 to 1945. The last time I saw Selma was five and a half years ago.

My husband and I planned to go to Israel, where Selma had moved at the age of 80. We were going to help her celebrate her 90th birthday. However just before the big day, Selma had a massive stroke. We did not know, at the time, how severe the stroke was, and we decided to travel to Israel to see her anyway.

Selma had lived in Israel for ten years in a beautiful home for senior citizens. She had her own apartment, filled with all her old furniture, books, photographs, and objects that were so dear to her. She had brought all of it with her from the Netherlands, when she made Aliyah to Israel. She had a small balcony full of plants; she always had a green thumb.

When we arrived, Selma was sitting in a wheelchair outside the home’s hospital area; pillows kept her from falling forward. It was sunny and she sat surrounded by sweet smelling flowers in all colors. Closest to her were purple oleander bushes. When I think of her now, that is how I remember her. She could not speak anymore. The stroke had done its job. She took our hands in her hand—she still had the use of one hand—and held on tight. We spoke to her and that brought a smile to her face.

I felt so fortunate that she recognized us. When she got tired we said goodbye, and this time she took my husband’s hand and held on for a long time, as though she was telling him to take good care of me. We knew we would not see her again.

Selma lived for another year. She never spoke again, and she died in her sleep. Selma’s wish was to be buried in Israel.

In November 2007 we again traveled to Israel. It was important for us to see where Selma was buried and to say kaddish graveside. After some difficulties in finding the right cemetery, we finally found her grave. The day was sunny and so peaceful. I brought a bag full of little stones from home, and we put them all on her gravestone, as is the Jewish tradition. We put down a stone for each of our children and grandchildren.

Selma is home now, with all her loved ones. She lost most of them when she was so young.

©2013, Louise Lawrence-Israëls. 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.