November 01, 2016
BY LOUISE LAWRENCE-ISRAËLS
I was in hiding for the first years of my life. There were five of us in hiding: my brother and I, my parents, and our friend, Tante Selma. My parents and Selma took very good care of my brother and me and gave us a lot of love. Since the adults never talked about our exceptional circumstances, we only knew what they told us, and we saw only what they showed us.
There was never a lot of food, and we were happy with what we were given. Yes, we were hungry sometimes, but the children got something to eat every day—even if sometimes we had to share a cracker. There just was no more. Of course, the adults sometimes went without anything to eat for days.
Mom and Selma used to dream about delicious food and talked to each other about it. They often talked about strawberries with whipped cream. They would look so happy; we could only imagine how good that would taste. The only fresh fruit we had ever seen was an apple.
When the war was over in 1945, we still only had apples. Most fruit trees had been chopped down for firewood, and the importing of fruit or other foods did not start in Holland until many years later.
We moved to Sweden in 1946. By that time, we had a sister. It was a big change for us. There was so much available, since Sweden had been neutral during the war. The first December we were in Sweden was so special. There were candles in every house, all to celebrate Christmas, almost as though it was a national holiday. Candles were lit on the first Sunday of December for the first day of Advent. More candles were lit each evening until Christmas Eve, and then the Christmas trees were lit. During the whole month there was so much delicious food, and most people did a lot of baking.
We did not talk about religion, but we loved the festivities, and in our little flat we also lit candles. My mom had an old chanukiah, and she lit all the candles every night. On one of the nights, we each received an orange as a present. It was the first time I had ever seen one.
It felt good in my hands, and it smelled so good when I lifted it up to my face. We were told that it was a fruit and that we could eat it. I did not want to eat my orange; it was too beautiful.
I saw my Mom peel part of my sister’s orange. We all had a piece. It was delicious, but my sister did not have her present anymore. I took my orange into bed with me and kept smelling it until I fell asleep. I found it the next morning, lying on the floor next to the mattress that was my bed. My mom had put it there so that I would not squash it by lying on it. I still did not want to eat it. I just held it and wanted to smell it.
After a few days my mom explained to me that if we didn’t eat the orange soon, it would rot and it was better to have it in our tummies than in the garbage. Now every year when we celebrate Chanukah, I have oranges or clementines on the table—and I remember that first orange.
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