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My daughter Marly has always made fun of my and her sister’s belief in spirits. She wasn’t a believer. She was however, a huge consumer of horror films.
Being scared and contemplating spirits (on film) was something Marly and her friends enjoyed immensely.
Since Marly was a little girl, the Holocaust was something she struggled to understand. She was fascinated, and almost obsessed. Finally, in the summer of 2016, as part of a larger trip through Europe, I made plans to visit Auschwitz with both my daughters, then 16 and 19.
Krakow, Krosno, Kielce… all familiar names to my grandparents and their families, before the war. We thought we go and also see a bit of Poland, where my paternal grandparents and their families lived for centuries.
The Poland portion of the trip was really the only part of our Euro travels that Marly was looking forward to. I’m not sure what she was expecting to find there.
For most of the trip, she was resentful and bored, frustrated to be away from her friends and the familiarity/conveniences of home. Travel truly isn’t for everyone! Particularly teenaged girls, torn away from their boyfriends.
But Ani, my younger daughter, and I were in our element. Our hearts beat in time with travel rhythms. Train tracks & thrumming engines. We have nomadic souls.
While we wandered museums and contemplated the layer cake of humanity in remote European villages, Marly stayed awake all night snap-chatting and face-timing with her friends back home.
She wasn’t particularly impressed with the great sights of Europe. Example: In Paris, she made us stop at a Chipotle. The rest of the city didn’t even make it into her Snapchat feed.
In Rome she spent 48 hrs in the apartment, missing out on gelato and a tour in favor of wifi. Cable cars that dipped and swung into plush green valleys in the Dolomites, were also less interesting than her cell phone. She flat out refused to set foot in the Picasso museum, in Barcelona.
Auschwitz, she assured us, would be another story. This was the one place she actually wanted to visit.
Finally, we made it to Krakow and it was my turn to feel cranky. Riding the rails in Poland makes me exceedingly uncomfortable. I can feel the anguish of every mile. I call this “empath travel problems.”
This was something my daughter Marly could not understand. When it comes to my “extra” sensory perceptions, she had a single canned response.
“OMG Mom… You’re so full of shit!”
A fateful night in Krakow changed almost everything for Marly, and made all three of us question what exactly had just happened. It began shortly after we visited Auschwitz, and toured the city and the old Jewish Quarter.
For starters, we all heard a woman sobbing in the apartment. A woman who was not there. I heard her as I drifted off to sleep. Marly heard her later that night.
And then Marly’s younger sister, Ani began chanting in her sleep. In Hebrew/Yiddish. Spoiler alert: She doesn’t know Hebrew.
According to the Airbnb host, the apartment wasn’t haunted. But tell that to the wailing woman! Racked with grief, her sobbing could not be ignored. She let loose the soul splitting cries of the brokenhearted and utterly bereft.
It was impossible to deny her presence, heard and felt, even though we could not see her.
It took us several days and a fair amount of research to figure out who she might have been. And then all at once we knew. We just knew. Mystery solved!
We all felt it in our cells. This was the woman who had so desperately sought to be remembered. We were the vehicle to retell her story. Literally, her mouthpiece.
In Israel the Holocaust museum is called Yad V’Shem. A hand and a name. These are the two things that everyone deserves, and they are essential to being remembered. She reached out from beyond the grave. We had a name.
We will never know for certain why she chose to visit us in particular. But we are sure of one thing: we were touched by her story and changed forever by this experience.
To read more about my trip to Poland, Auschwitz visit and this experience – start with this post about my grandparents.