It is 1946 in the Robert Taylor Displaced Persons camp (DP camp, later known also as Delayed Pilgrims camp). I am five years old. I share one room in a wooden barracks with my Dziadzio and Babcia. It is winter. Snowflakes float gently to land on icy-cold mud. Babcia has bundled me in every warm garment she can locate, whether it fits or not. I wear two pairs of Dziadzio’s socks on my hands. They cover my arms to the shoulders as well as my fingers. I sport a pair of someone’s leggings rolled up several times. My feet are bundled in rags. A knitted wool cap kept in place by a heavy babushka completes this outfit.
With my multiple layers of clothing, I resemble a matryoshka doll. Like the doll, I have one layer of clothing nestled into another layer of clothing and so on, until finally there is tiny me. I trudge along like a fat duck, barely keeping my balance. My destination is a huge hole in the ground, about 75 feet in diameter. This is where we kids go sledding in winter, usually without sleds.
For me, this vast expanse is where G-d is. I picture G-d as a huge, old man with a long beard. He cannot be seen, but one can talk to him at this site. To me, G-d is a puppeteer, and deaths happen because G-d accidentally tangles the strings of his marionettes. I often come to walk around this hole to talk with G-d and escape the fights between my grandparents. “Please, G-d, send me my Mommy and Daddy. I miss them. Other kids have a mommy and daddy. Where are mine?”
One day, while walking with Dziadzio—my small hand swallowed up in his huge, bear-like one— I stop, rise to my tippy-toes, and peer up into Dziadzio’s face.
“Dziadzio, where are my Mommy and Daddy?”
Dziadzio takes a deep breath, pauses, then finally replies, “Julitschka, they are away on a long trip.”
“They are never coming back, are they?” I murmur.
Tears glisten at the corners of Dziadzio’s eyes. I know not to bring up this subject again.
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