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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Small Miracles Do Occur-Yom HaShoah

It's been five years and half dozen months since dad left this world. Dad was the star in our universe, the center of our family, the glue that held us together. He was the man who loved to dance in the middle of a crowd, to smoke a good cigar, drink scotch until his ears turned red and then he finally loosened up. Dad liked to fish in ponds, work in his vegetable garden and steal liberally and without regret from any other garden he passed on his way home. Saul never followed the rules, was an unbelievably tough father and husband. He was, however, a very interesting man. He was filled with vim and vinegar, a begrudgingly acerbic joie de vivre. Deep inside of his rough and tough exterior lived a softer interior, one that was rarely revealed, but came out only on rare occasions. Saul, our dad, loved life and loved to live. To say that he is missed in our family would be an understatement.

Our dad and his brothers, Julius and George, survived the war. Dad, his brother Julius and his wife Rina, lived in the forests of Poland during the war along with Rina's two sisters and

a group of Russian partisans. Following the end of the war, the group ended up in a displaced person camp in Linz, Austria, called Bindermichel. For more than two years they lived in this camp, recovered pieces of their dignity and humanity and were in a holding pattern for their second lives, because through grit determination and perhaps the help of God, they were granted a second chapter to their lives, a fate that their families and millions of others were not granted.

Following mom's death at the end of January, I was the recipient of much of mom and dad's stuff. As the daughter of a survivor, I am convinced that I have a gene that makes me a saver, a gene that neither of my brothers received, so naturally I am the holder of the pictures. Determined to rid myself of clutter (a losing battle), I slowly began to go through photos, hoping to consolidate and put some on Google photos to share with the family

The first group of photos I began to photograph a week ago. These small black and white or sepia tinted photos showed my father and his group of friends young and fresh. As young people often do, they look positively glowing. The photos probably covered up the inner anguish they felt and hid the feelings of uncertainty they surely harbored as they waited to go to Israel or countries where perhaps they had sponsors. The photos are truly the photos of survivors. In inscriptions on the backs of a few photos were the words, "Zikaron L'netzach," or we "Remember the Victory"

In this grouping of tiny photos, there were many people whom I did not recognize. One young man, with light eyes and light hair, appeared in a number of photos. On the back of one photos was the inscription

"Remember the Victory!!!!" I am giving you my photograph, to my dear friend, B'tzalel

Gershkowitz, from Yitzhak Gendelman.

Linz, Bindermichel 19th of July 1946

My brother and I looked at the photos and talked about the man with the light eyes. We talked about how interesting it was to see the "Remember the Victory" greeting and how wonderful it was that the person wrote in Hebrew. We wondered if the Hebrew was learned there at the DP camp or if this person was a Zionist before and had learned Hebrew as part of a Zionist youth movement. A few days later, I discovered a second set of photographs and once again Yitzhak Gendelman appeared in many photos. This time I searched for his name along with the name of the city where the DP camp was located, Linz. The search went directly to Mr. Gendelman's survivor account with the United States Holocaust Memorial. In his account, Mr. Gendelman gives an emotional account of his time in the forests, of the death of his family, his drive to survive, the end of the war, his time in Bindermichel and finally, an account of his second life, his marriage to the love of his life, the birth of his children and grandchildren.

When I checked further, I noticed Mr. Gendelman's late wife's obituary, but discovered that not only is the man with the light eyes still with us, but that he this very evening, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, is giving his account of his life's story. The knowledge that this man, who shared a critical period, a period of rebirth with our father, was like having a door open to the past. By yesterday my sister-in-law discovered that we even have common contact and she was able to facilitate a discussion with Mr. Gendelman's son. We know that today is Mr. Gendelman's 96th birthday and the photo that I have inherited from our dad, Saul Gershkowitz, also hangs on Mr. Gendelman's wall in his apartment, where he lives independently to this day.

Tonight my family will attend this Zoom meeting and hear Mr. Gendelman's story. Perhaps someday in the near future, through the wonder of Zoom meetings, we will avoid the necessity of travel and meet in our own cozy Zoom chatroom and catch up on the past generation or two or three. Perhaps we will learn more about this time that dad and Mr. Gendelman were reborn, along with our other dear relatives, who merited a second life; some in Israel, some in Detroit, some in Maryland and some in Boston.

Miracles do still happen, don't they?

"Miracles happen everyday, change your perception of what a miracle is and you'll see them all around you."

Watch our dad's, Saul Gershkowitz's, testimony.

To see all of the Bindermichel photos.

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