Posts filed under ‘Nanny A’s Story’
This week I haven’t written a blog post cause I’ve been busy writing this:
Today was my Nanny’s ninetieth birthday and she had a really hard time figuring out which of her fifty closest friends and family to select for the bash since that’s all the room we booked in her building would hold.
I could tell she enjoyed every minute.
I shared glossy printed copies of the story with her guests and, though I may have liked to take it a little further into her emigration to Canada, added some additional details, and, and, and…. I was very glad to put a final period at the end of the final sentence late last night.
For privacy’s sake, I deleted the final page of current family photos that was included in the printed version.
Please read the story, and remember the story, and tell the story. I hope our children will tell their children.
My Nanny Antoinette is turning ninety in a few weeks! Some of you may remember that I’m trying to document her Holocaust survival story.
Well, I’ve given myself a deadline of her birthday. I will publish a small book that will be a gift to her guests.
My deadline is three weeks away. Gotta get to work.
Below is my rough outline with links to brief bits of the story that I’ve posted here before – what do you think? Writers, come on – be critical (you can email my privately if you prefer):
- Introduction: How I got started
- Quick Facts:
-Where is she from:
3. Brief History: The Russian Occupation (linked to Jewish history of Tarnopol at the beginning of twentieth century… click only if VERY interested!)
4. Brief History: The German Occupation:
5. Nanny’s work through the German Occupation:
6.Into the Ghetto
-the clothing swap
-the stops along the way
8. The working years
-the work camp
9.The War Ends
-transport to France
10. A New Beginning
-meeting Buppy (my grandfather)
-moving to Canada and making a life
11. Stories of others
-the young child and the old man
12.The Present – Pics of nanny and each of us up to my little 3-month-old niece
Last week I received an email from my mom with the subject line “Heads Up!!!”.
Yes, there were indeed three exclamation marks.
The first line of the body of the email was “It’s out the bag!”.
You see, sometime ago, my mom and I decided that we wouldn’t tell my grandmother that I blogged about her. She knew I was recording her life story and had given her permission to show it to whomever – the more the better, in fact – she wants her story told.
However, we decided that my blogging about the process of documenting the story would be more candid and unguarded if she didn’t read it.
Well, that is not to be any longer.
A friend of Nanny’s arrived for a visit with a bunch of printed pages in her hand and the announcement “I have a surprise for you!”.
Apparently, she had searched Nanny’s name on Google and found this photo from this post where she is identified by her full name.
Nanny’s friend then presented the print outs from this blog to Nanny and gave her a tutorial and written instructions on how to follow the blog.
So everyone reading can now say a collective “Hi Nanny!!”.
According to the reports I have received from her insiders, Nanny is very pleased with my recounts of our visits and her story. She appreciates my candidness and my sense of humour.
Nanny is also so flattered that you are interested in reading about her and that you even take the time to comment.
So, the plan is to continue as before. I’m just going to tell it like it I see it. I’m sometimes known to say too much… in this case, so be it. I know Nanny understands.
Last Week’s Visit:
On Friday I spent a couple of hours with Nanny. We went through some old documents and talked a bit about life immediately after the war. We also talked about their first few years as new immigrants in Canada. This part of the story is really interesting and I’d like to write a whole separate post about it. You can expect that soon.
I’ll give you a little teaser: It involves correspondence with the Prime Minister of Canada, Louis St. Laurent.
So again – Hi Nanny! I’m glad you’re reading and I’m glad to be helping you tell your story.
Remember the heart-wrenching story of Mila and her child? It made us all think about what we could/should/would do an extreme circumstances. If you haven’t read it, it’s worthwhile to get you thinking, but beware that it will stay with you.
Well, I wanted to do a follow-up post to show you that life went on for Mila.
Here is a happy photograph of her and her infant who was born after the war.
This is Zoya:
Zoya was a very dear friend of Nanny’s during her time in Germany as a forced labourer. Zoya gave Nanny another photo of herself. Nanny had it stored in an envelope on which Nanny had written:
Zoya Medvedeva, my best friend in Germany
We were together in camps. She was 1/2 Jewish. That I only found after the war. She writes a very nice dedication to me on the back of the picture.
Here is the photograph:
Here is the original dedication on the back of the photograph.
This translation from Russian was done by Nanny late last year:
April 17, 1944
To: Bekadorova Tanterska (Nanny’s official fake name, I suppose)
From: Medvedeva Zoierka
I offer this picture to a never forgotten friend, to remember hard times spent together. We walked together the “golden road” (Nanny adds “???”). You should never forget times being with Zoya; this girl was your true friend. Most probably you remember better now. Separation was sad, though we manage to see each other from time to time. I hope that this separation is not going to be forever, so please do not forget me. Your face and heart are always with me.
Nanny adds at the bottom of the translation:
Zoya stayed in the Lengerich working camp and I was transferred to a farm where I stayed till the end of the war.
Nanny wonders what happened to Zoya. She is sure she wouldn’t have stayed in Germany. Now that Nanny has seen the power of the internet, she is wondering if I can find a trace of Zoya. I’m not really sure how to begin, but I will sure try.
After a few months off, I’m going to start telling bits and pieces of Nanny Antoinette’s story again. Today is just a short little tidbit:
Nanny spent some time during the war doing forced labour on farms in Germany. Many German farmers who were away at war were given prisoners from the occupied territories as slaves to help work their farms (Nanny had disguised herself as a Russian prisoner and hopped on the train passing through her town). Over the course of the war, Nanny lived and worked on two such farms.
I posted the above picture last week. It’s Nanny working away on the farm. I asked her why she was smiling. She told me she always kept a smile on her face no matter how much pain she was in because she didn’t want to let people to know how she was feeling. She also thinks people liked her because she smiled – wise words in my opinion, and perhaps part of the mystery of her survival.
On one of the two farms, Nanny told me that she “ate well” because every morning they would have Milchesuppe. She described it as fresh whole milk (that she had milked from her bovine roommates that morning), cereal (not sure what kind) and sugar. I did a search and found this recipe for Milchesuppe. It sounds similar to what she ate during that time, though she did tell me that eggs were precious and she would often steal those, so I don’t imagine they were part of the labourers’ breakfasts. This is probably the recipe from a more prosperous time.
Milchsuppe – milk soup
1 liter (36 fl oz.) Milk, 4 Eggs, 150 grams (5 ½ oz.) Flour,
1 Leaf of Vanilla or 1 pack of Vanilla-Extract, Salt.
Mix flour (except for 2 tbsp.), eggs, and a little milk together, and knead a dough.
Take 2 tbsp. flour and stir it in a cup of cold milk. For the rest of the milk, stir in some salt and the Vanilla, and bring it to a slow boil. Then take the milk-flour mixture and stir it into to the slow boiling milk. Let it cook for a few minutes on low heat. Next, take a teaspoon, form spoon size dumplings from the dough, and put it in the slow cooking milk. Turn off the milk. Let it sit there for about 10 more minutes. Serve this soup with sugar and cinnamon.
Last September I embarked on a project to document my Nanny Antoinette’s story of survival, from pre-WWII Poland, through the Holocaust, emigration to Canada, and eventual establishment and success as a Canadian. Nanny left for the winter in Florida in early December, and with her went our weekly visits and my inspiration.
Actually, I’m not sure it was my inspiration that left, but more my purpose. The only thing I knew I needed to do to get the story documented was ask questions. That is obvious. What is not as simple is the process of organizing the story and telling it so it does her justice. The interviews are the easy part. Nanny is interesting and funny and I got some great material. But how do I write it? I was stalled.
Thankfully, at the end of last month I took a workshop entitled Writing Family History and Memoir – Even If You’re Not a Writer: Write It So They’ll Read It. It was given be a lovely woman named Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith. Lee Ann wrote her own family history, The Granger Chronicles, and she had experience, insight, examples, and anecdotes to share about the process.
It is no secret that I am not a writer. I remember the basics from high school English, but not much beyond that. The workshop was perfect. It broke down the following topics:
1) Choosing the right form, biography versus memoir: Nanny’s story is definitely a memoir. This is defined as “stories from a life” rather than “the story of a life”.
2) Choosing the right structure. There are many ways to tell a story. We heard about some really interesting and creative ideas, but I think I’m going to be fairly conventional. I will most likely be using a chronological narrative timeline beginning right before the German occupation up to today with flashbacks to earlier. There will also be bits of oral history with Nanny describing things in her own words. I would also like to include some character profile sidebars throughout the story, and some recipes since food is so important to Nanny. I was contemplating how much of my grandfather’s story should be part of this document. At this point, I think I will include him as part Nanny’s story, and I will have an Appendix which will include his family history and his story of survival.
3) Writing Compelling Narrative. This is my big source of anxiety. The printed handout page on this page is covered in my chicken scratch notes. I am working on developing several of the techniques, but I feel like such an amateur.
4) Resources. I have a reading list that I have yet to conquer.
Voila! A summary of what I have ahead of me on this project. Nanny comes home from the sunny south in less than a month. I would really like to have something to show her, an outline at the very least. And so the real work begins.