Last week was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Because it follows the Hebrew calendar it falls on different days. Next year it will be April 11. I'm posting this because I have a number of Jewish friends and like them, I don't want anyone to forget the horrors.
To augment the family income, my mom was a dressmaker in her spare time and she made an acquaintance with the owners of the local fabric store, Joe and Pauline Meyerhoff. I understood their thick accents meant they weren't from the United States but I'd never asked where they were from.
A trip to this yard goods store, for a nine-year-old, was fun so I never minded tagging along. The deep shelves lining the walls were stacked with long rolls of fabric with the smaller bolts sitting on tables. They were neatly arranged by the type of fabric and then into similar hues. I was fascinated by the color and can even remember the smells which, as an adult I know now, were from the dyes.
In the front of the store, near the windows, was a wide low table was used to measure and cut the fabric. Pauline would roll out the fabric, lay it flat then slice it off with the sharp long handled shears. If it were near the end Pauline would measure the remaining fabric and always say, "Only a few inches I'll give you a good price." I think she always did, I never heard my mom say anything bad about Pauline. After she was done Joe would quickly re-roll the bolts and place them back on the shelves. I think Joe was the neat one. They worked well together.
In the back of the store were racks of buttons, zippers and thread and I never tired runny my fingers over myriad of colors. I was convinced, if you tried hard enough, you could tell colors by touch and would experiment every time I was there. My successes only reinforced my theory; my failures meant I need more practice.
Pauline was a sweet woman though always seemed a bit sad to me while Joe was outgoing and gregarious. He would talk to me, not as a child but, as an adult and it made me feel special. Of course the of candy he had for me didn't hurt. My mom would buy her fabric but chat as well and what they talked about I have no idea. The Meyerhoffs learned momma was a dressmaker and would give out her phone number to customers needing her service. She got a lot of jobs from their store.
One afternoon while watching Pauline cut fabric, I noticed something on her forearm and, as children would do, was caught staring. At first she pulled her cardigan sleeve down to cover it and my mom admonished me for staring but she then called me closer. "Did you notice my tattoo, she asked?" I said yes and she then, after asking my mother's permission, proceeded to quietly tell me why she had the tattoo.
When Joe and I were younger we lived in Germany. We knew each others families and when we were old enough, we got married. From across the table Joe added, "She stole my heart when I was your age." Pauline waved him off and with her usual quite voice went on. There were some wicked people who hated all the Jews and put us in prison just for what we believed. Young and old, brothers and sister and husbands and wives; we all went to the prison camps. They made us work hard and every day some of our friends or neighbors or family died. They fed us horrible food and many starved.
By this time Joe had come to stand next to Pauline and wrapping his arms around his wife he added he would eat no matter how bad the food because he knew they would survive somehow and get out. Pauline smiled softly and said this was true and Joe would often force her to eat something. She turned to him, gently touched his hand, and said he did save my life.
We were some of the lucky ones and when released we learned Joe and I were the only ones left from both our families so with nothing to keep us in Germany, we left and came to the United States to start over. Now we have lovely American friends who have made us feel very welcome even if we are Jews. The wicked people put a number on our arms that would never come off. Now it just reminds all of us never to forget.
Even at such a young age I understood the pain these two people went through and regretfully, had a million questions I did not ask. I did ask my parents about what Pauline had told me and they said it was all true. I think that is when I realized there were evil people in the world.
There are very few survivors from the prison camps these days and I would love to find out what happen to these two dear people. There was a famous survivor names Joe Meyerhoff but he was a professor on the East coast. I might not even have the correct spelling of their last name but I do remember they kindness and could never understand why someone would want to kill them.