Some of you may have heard me talk publicly or privately about my amazing Polish aunt, Rut Wermuth Burak (Wikipedia link), who survived the Holocaust, spent 18 years looking for my father, and finally found us in 1994, 53 years after last seeing her brother, my father.
Her deeply moving and inspiring narrative (to me at least), Leap for Life, is now available in English on Amazon. (The title refers to her jump from the cattle car on the train transporting her and my grand parents to the gas chamber.) The book has been published already in Poland and Germany, and indeed, has won the David Ben Gurion prize (link to her acceptance remarks) in Poland, awarded by the town of Plonsk.
Here is my aunt describing the first phone call from her brother, my father, in June 1994:
Through the static and clicking a man’s voice started to come through. He spoke Polish with an accent that still spoke to my heart, the sing-song intonation of the Eastern borderlands.
“Is that Rut Burak speaking?” the voice asked.
I suddenly tensed. That voice? That accent, so similar to my own?
“Speaking, Rut Burak, born Wermuth,” I answered.
To this day I cannot tell you how I knew to answer on that day in that way. I had never before introduced myself with my old and now never-used Jewish name. I never had need or reason.
There was hesitation in the man’s voice. He did not seem to know what to say next, or how to say it.
“Do you know who is calling?” the question came at last.
Of course I did not know. How could I know? But I was getting a little more excited. Recently I had been corresponding with a man who had, long ago, been a school friend of my dead brother. That man’s accent could maybe sound like that.
Is this “Besio? Dov Noy from Israel?” I asked doubtfully.
“No. I am ringing from England.”
Then it hit me. Somehow I knew, before any name was said. I knew no one in England. Who else could expect me to know who he was?
My heart started to pound. For the first and only time in my life my hair really did stand on end.
“SALEK.” I screamed at the receiver.
“Salek, dearest brother, you are alive!”
In those few words there were so many emotions. Joy, overwhelming joy. Inexpressible joy. Love. Wonder. Sadness for what had been lost. But also still a little fear, fear that this voice, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, would not be able to confirm my desperate hope.
“Yes, it’s me, my little sister.” The man answered as his voice broke into a heart-rending sob.
The operator came on, worried. “Hello, hello, what’s happened? Are you there? Are you there?”
Yes, I was there, and no, nothing much had happened.
Only that after 53 years a brother and a sister had found each other. He was convinced that she had been killed in the war, and she was sure that the same had happened to him.
No, nothing at all!
(Extract from Leap for Life, Copyright: 2010 Rut Burak)
For me, the timing on this really shows how everything is connected. I got the e-mail that the book was now available on Amazon while I was finishing up yesterday’s post about Ben Kaplan and the Nuremberg trials.
Here is the cover.
And, here are the two of us, in a photo taken by my wife Joan Zorza, working on the translation (i.e., me cleaning up her English).
Actually we were working on the paragraph describing her sitting in the plane on the way to England for the first time, worrying about whether she would be accepted by the maybe “unemotional” English family. I think her anxiety on that score has since dissolved!