As I mentioned in my last post about my trip to Amsterdam, I felt very moved, yet also inspired, by my visit to Anne Frank’s house. I hadn’t previously read Anne Frank’s diary, but bought a copy from the gift shop, which I have since read; it opened my eyes and my heart to Anne Frank’s (and her family and friends’) experiences of the war.
There was something about reading the diary that made me want to read more, and I had on my Kindle a book that I downloaded about a year ago but hadn’t yet got round to reading, Lusia’s Long Journey Home. Like Anne Frank’s diary, the story focuses on a young Jewish girl’s experience of the war, yet Lusia’s story is one of ultimate survival. Lusia and her immediate family were able to survive the war by fleeing their home in Sucha, Poland, and undertaking a nomadic journey which led them to Ukraine, Siberia, Tajikistan, back to Poland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and finally, America.
Lusia’s memoirs of her life as a refugee child, constantly on the move throughout the war years, revealed a part of the history of WW2 that I hadn’t come across before. Like Anne Frank’s diary, the voice of the young girl comes through; by retelling what happened to her family, people today can learn and try to understand this aspect of European history.
There was a part of the memoir that stood out to me as I read it, which seemed to symbolise the human need to hope and dream, to trust in something in order to keep going. Lusia describes her father’s dream that the family would eventually reach Palestine and how his dream rubbed off on her too; she then describes that her mother carried this dream in the shape of a seashell.
It had been sent to her in Poland in the early 1930s by her best friend who moved to Palestine. Mama held on to it throughout the long and difficult years of the war. I have it still, and to this day, we all treasure the shell. If you tap it gently against a hard surface, you will hear the sound of the ocean waves.
There was something about this that really got me thinking about the objects we hold on to in life that become loaded with meaning. To Lusia’s family, this was not an ordinary shell; it was a dream of survival for her family and people. I am not actually very sentimental about objects and tend not to load things with emotional attachment, but who knows, maybe in adverse circumstances such as Lusia’s, there may be something that I would hold on to, that would come to embody my dream.
Although there is no object I cherish as strongly as Lusia’s family cherished the seashell, there are certain things that I have been given that always bring fond memories to mind. For example, the sequinned star a friend gave me as a parting gift, that now lies on my dressing table; the list of ‘highlights’ of my time in Bratislava that I was given to help me remember the good times over the bad; the homemade personalised badge I was given as a ‘thank you’ by some of my students in Spain.
But more than objects, it is the caring things people have done for me that I have really cherished. There have been many times when I have been pleasantly surprised by kindnesses shown to me when I didn’t expect it. I might not be sentimental about objects, but I definitely get sentimental when I think about certain times that friends and family helped me to keep going. These moments and memories are my treasures; they are what helps me to keep believing and to have faith.