Another Visit with Nanny A: Kinda a Downer This Week
Yesterday I went to see my grandmother for our usual Tuesday morning interview/visit. Though she appeared fairly upbeat, the conversation sucked the life right out of me. From her Tuesday morning point of view, nothing was good enough and everything was a problem.
Now, Nanny is in her ninetieth year and has a multitude of health problems. With breakfast, she swallows the most colourful and plentiful array of pills and capsules I have ever seen. And she lived through some very traumatic years, so really, bad days are understandable. But still, they are a real downer.
From her house, I went to my mom’s for a quick visit and I was literally bouncing on the spot. My mom commented on my pent-up energy. I think I was just trying to get some endorphins to my brain.
But I know you’re wondering what Nanny told me:
- You should eat fruit first thing in the morning. It gets your stomach going.
- Persimmon is a delicious fruit (I tried it for the first time and did not like it).
- There are some in our family who can do no wrong.
- There are some in our extended family who are less than perfect; they do not live close by so don’t worry, it’s not you.
- Nanny resents the fact that many of her fellow survivors get reparations from the German government for their time in Germany or their infirmities that were a result of the war. Recently, Nanny was approved to receive a very small amount, but it is not retroactive and is really much less than she feels she deserves.
- She shared some small details of the train ride from her town of Tarnopol to Germany.
- Nanny described her day-to-day life in Germany: She was assigned to various work situations throughout the war, f rom work camps with various factory jobs, to a couple of farms.
A few quick stories for you:
As Nanny boarded the train in Tarnopol posing as a Russian peasant, she felt someone holding on to the back of her skirt. It was her friend Michael’s aunt. Nanny knew that this woman spoke Russian with a strong Yiddish accent. So, as someone addressed this woman, Nanny quickly pushed her to sit on the floor and said in Russian, “Don’t bother with her; she’s crazy”.
And no one did. And she survived.
Sometime later, as they crossed the German border, two German physicians boarded to train and began examining all the prisoners for venereal diseases. I haven’t actually heard the term “venereal diseases” in a long time… so let’s call them sexually transmitted infections.
Anyway, the doctors asked Nanny where she was from and she replied that she was from Piatigorsk in the Russian caucuses. They lifted her skirts and checked her out. Then one of them gave her a slap on the ass and said, “Now that’s a real country girl from the caucuses”.
And one last anecdote for today:
One of Nanny’s work assignments in Germany was on a farm. A Ukrainian girl from Tarnopol who had travelled with her on the train “denounced” Nanny as a Jew to the German authorities. Since they couldn’t prove anything, they kept trying to trip her up in her story. For months, she was taken weekly or bi-weekly to police headquarters to be interviewed. She was never caught. She remained on the farm. And she never forgot the Ukrainian girl, Nina Teslenko.
The six years between 1939 and 1945 were the most important in Nanny’s life and had a profound effect on her outlook. She thinks about the war and what she lost every day. She described a dream she had this week about her and my grandfather and another couple running from the Nazis.
She is thankful for the joys in her life and the family that she created, but she still asks herself, “why me?”.
She told me that my mom has tried to instill in her that she has actually had many more good years than bad years, but those years were so bad, that she can’t get past them.
But I’d like to leave you with a laugh, as Nanny always tries to do:
In describing my cousins and their adorable family dog, she said,
“They adore her and kiss her all over. It’s as if they would kiss her on the ass”.