By Flora Singer
Every time Helena, or Heleneke, as she was called by everyone in the family, wore her light blue ensemble, I was filled with envy. I loved the dress and the cape she wore over it. My favorite part of the dress was the skirt, which fluttered up and outward when Heleneke twirled round and round. When she wore the cape she looked regal, like a real princess. Heleneke had many beautiful dresses; I did not.
Heleneke’s mom, Aunt Rachel, made many of her dresses. Heleneke was the only daughter in her family. The other child was an older boy, Louis. In our family, we were three daughters, thus Mama did not have the time to make us many dresses, especially not dresses with matching capes. But I was hopeful. I knew that one day I would own that beautiful ensemble, the dress and the cape. I received all of Heleneke’s dresses and coats when she outgrew them. Although she was only eight days older than I, she was taller than me.
When we played together, I often asked Heleneke if I could try on her light blue dress and cape. I put on the dress and twirled round and round in front of the mirror in her room, watching the skirt flutter around me. Then I put the cape on over my shoulders and glanced at myself, feeling especially beautiful. After a while I reluctantly took the ensemble off and put my own clothes on to go home, but the thought was always there. The ensemble will be mine. I wished that Heleneke would grow a little faster. I was impatient.
I loved Heleneke. She and her family lived close by on the Lange Kievitstraat, where we lived. On Sundays, when all the family members met in the Antwerp Stadtpark to picnic and play, Heleneke and I, as well as her brother and my younger sisters, ran and played together, or watched the graceful swans in the park lake. Then, when Uncle Alex, Aunt Lea’s husband, took out his mandolin and began to play, we joined the other family members to sing together.
Time passed. On May 10, 1940, the German army with its tanks entered Belgium and the horrible years of World War II began. The persecution of the Jewish people started. We all dispersed in different directions, changing our identities, hiding from the enemy, the Gestapo. We lost contact. I lost contact not only with Heleneke, but also with many members of our large family.
After the Liberation by the Allied troops, we waited for the return of family members, either from the many hiding places, or from the concentration camps. Most never returned. Heleneke’s father Moisz, who was caught and taken to Auschwitz with Transport XV, on October 24, 1942, never returned. Her mother, Rachel, and her brother, Louis, were caught and taken to Auschwitz with Transport XIX, on January 15, 1943; they never returned. Heleneke, beautiful Heleneke, was also caught by the Gestapo and taken to Auschwitz with Transport XIX. She never returned from Auschwitz either. Just like the other members of the family, she perished in Auschwitz’s gas chamber.
I was never caught. I managed to elude the Gestapo and survived. I inherited Heleneke’s beautiful light blue ensemble but have never worn it. It is featured in a photograph of my beautiful family member and best friend, Heleneke, wearing it, the cape draped over her slim shoulders. I often look at that photograph and cry. And I ask. Why?
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