“Even a wart can be a blessing,” Edith, my mother-in-law, tells my daughter who is agonizing over a wart that appeared on her ring finger.
“In 1942, I got a wart on my heel that kept me from going on the train with my friends, when we Jews were being 'relocated'. My father took me to the hospital where I was treated, and I missed the transport.
“The Rabbi came to visit me every day, sat at the bedside, and read me Faust. But then one day he did not come. He too was sent on a transport and went from one concentration camp to another, and finally to Aushwitz where he again met my father.
This flash vignette is a true story; a family history imparted from grandmother to granddaughter.
There is a Jewish belief that everything has a purpose under G-d, even suffering. Even warts. Neither should be passively accepted, but be recognized as challenges to be overcome. And both contain lessons for us to comprehend.
In this instance, a mere wart delayed my mother-in-law's trials in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. Her father went to the gas chambers with the knowledge that his daughter might (and did) escape the same fate. And that she would know his.
I removed my daughter's wart, but through her grandmother's story, the event was no longer merely about teenage self-image but an interconnectedness among our family, between people, and with G-d.
I've been working on something completely different when this came up. As I find I tend to do, I've already revised it (and include the full 1st 13 lines):
“Even a wart can be a blessing,” my mother-in-law told my daughter who was agonizing over a wart that had appeared on her finger.
“In 1942, I got a wart on my heel. It kept me from going on the train with my friends, when we Jews were being ‘relocated’. My father took me to the hospital where I was treated, and I missed the transport.
“The Rabbi came to visit me every day, sat at the bedside, and read me Faust. But then one day he did not come. He too was sent on a transport and went from one concentration camp to another, and finally came to Aushwitz where he again, after many years, met my father. My father was selected for the ‘showers,’ and the Rabbi was not.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
[This message has been edited by History (edited January 09, 2011).]
Amazing, indeed. I am curious to see where you're going with this. There is a problem, though. Even though you say that this really did happen (the wart saving her), it is so amazing, so unbelievable, that when I first read it (without being told it was true) I thought "Oh, come on! The Nazis wouldn't take her to her death because her foot hurt?" I would have stopped reading pretty soon afterward. I seem to remember an admonition in some writing text that just telling a true story isn't good enough to make it seem real. You still need to make it seem plausible. It may require that you: 1) Include a prologue (yuck!) to explain that the story is true, heading off the reader's disbelief, OR 2) Expand on how the wart kept her from going to the train - how painful it was, how "...the nazis wouldn't allow the jews to carry suitcases, let alone an x-year old girl. That was in the early days, when they were still trying to fool us into thinking they cared about our welfare..."
Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I do appreciate them.
"Truth is stranger than fiction", it is said. While I will rework a piece of fiction to make it seem true, I am not one to fictionalize the truth--particularly one as intimate as this.
I have been experimenting with writing of different lengths. This 250 word vignette is cut to the bone, yet I have four people whose true life stories, tragedy and triumph, intertwine through something as insignificant (and perhaps ignominious) as a wart.
I thought of making this a much longer piece, expanding each character (as related to me by my mother-in-law and from what my daughter shared of what she learned and how she felt in the telling--and touching), but the essence of what was shared between them would remain unchanged. I wanted to cut straight to this. And to see how much need not be said, to see how much the reader would fill in on his or her own.
Yes, I could tell much of my mother-in-law's experiences in the Holocaust... The day came when she and her mother finally were forcibly sent on the transport; how they stuck together going from camp to camp; how they were selected for the "showers" but were let out when the Germans could not get the chamber door to seal shut without leaking; and much more, tragic and triumphal...-but this is extraneous to this one moment I observed between grandmother and granddaughter.
For me, I found much was imparted in the telling, and I could write pages explaining what I imagine each of the five people involved (the fifth being myself, like the reader) understood and felt. But I believe less is more in this case, and it would be wrong to hit the reader over the head with my POV. Therefore, I provide it raw and unfiltered.
I had the same reaction NT^3 had. The only thing that kept me from thinking "oh, please, give me a break" was that I've read several of your posts, Dr. Bob, and I know you have a rich family history and store of knowledge pertaining to Judaism and the Holocaust in particular. But the average reader won't know any of that.
It sounds like this was an exercise for you, rather than something you plan to expand into a saleable story, so the point is perhaps moot.
What an arresting tidbit, the leaking gas chamber door -- I'd be interested in reading a (fictionalized) short story based around that. (And a footnote stating that that basic premise actually happened to the author's relatives would blow the reader away, afterward.) Coincidence DOES happen in real life, even when it works to the protagonist's advantage.
Well, since two of you were stopped by this, a rewriting may be in order. Particularly as the general reader today has a Monarch Notes knowledge of the events of the Holocaust.
The Nazi's war upon the Jews was slow and incremental. The requirement for identification and later visible recognition of Jew from German, the stepwise forbidding of Jews from certain professions, the segregation of schoolchildren, etc. was an insidious process. Confiscaton or detruction of business and properties, segregation of Jews into ghettoes, and forced curfews, etc. came later. Then the work camps. It was only in the later portion of the Third Reich, when years of antisemitic propaganda and the general suffering from the war took their toll, that the dehumanization of Jews reached its peak, and work camps became death camps, transports became cattle cars, and the planned systemized extermination of every Jew in Europe was implemented.
In the early days, discrimination against Jews was not as readily accepted by every common German, particularly those with Jewish friends, and the Nazi's had yet established the degree of fear among their fellows that later pervaded Germany.
Thus, my mother-in-law's physician could easily (and did) inform the local Nazi leaders that she could not yet travel, and they accepted his decision. This was before the Final Solution and the death camps. And the soldiers were still able to see her as a child, not "a dirty Jew." In later years, if her physician had stated she could not travel, they would have just shot her in the head. But this was before.
As I shared above, this event only delayed her, and her mother's, deportation to the camps.
Yet all the the children who went on that first kinder transport never returned.
Now, I'm open to suggestions to succinctly (the fewer words the better) convey this to those do not possess this knowledge of Holocaust history and expect that, as you demonstrate, the Nazis would have forced her on the transport--when in fact they did not.
quote:I take it, Kathleen, you similarly felt "disbelief" upon reading these lines?
Oh, no. I know about the process and that it had to build to what eventually happened (and to what most people tend to think was going on all along). I've studied the time and the people involved to some extent.
I was just offering a suggestion:
quote:Now, I'm open to suggestions to succinctly (the fewer words the better) convey this to those do not possess this knowledge of Holocaust history and expect that, as you demonstrate, the Nazis would have forced her on the transport--when in fact they did not.
“Even a wart can be a blessing,” my mother-in-law Edith told my daughter Hannah. Hannah was agonizing over a wart that had appeared on her index finger.
“In 1942, I got a wart on my heel. It kept me from going on the train with my friends, when the Germans first began to send some of us away. My father took me to the hospital where I was treated, and I missed the transport. I never saw my friends or my father again.
“Our rabbi came to visit me every day, sat at the bedside, and read me Faust. But then one day he did not come. He too was sent on a transport and went from one concentration camp to another. After many years, he came to Aushwitz where he again met my father. My father was selected for the ‘showers’, and the rabbi was not. ------------------------------------
Edith also was sent to the camps, but later, and this is shared in the remaining 99 words of this vignette. That this delay may have saved his daughter's life, is something her father knew before he died; and their rabbi was able to bear witness and inform Edith.
The objection made by Members is one of "disbelief" that a plantar's wart would have kept the Nazis from sending her to the camps. It did, at fist. But she later went. The revision includes this knowledge. The question is: Does this quell the objection?
My self-conceived exercise was to write of this in less than 250 words (very simply and without extraneous description or metaphor or other artifices) and convey not the horror and suffering Edith and her immediate family experienced but the blessing(s) Edith found within the tragedy:
* her survival, * her father's knowledge of the improved chance for her survival even as he was led to his death, * the rabbi was able to say kaddish for her father, * the rabbi's survival and that he was able to find Edith and relate to her her father's fate, * and the chain the Nazis were unable to break: as she, now a grandmother, shares the story with her granddaughter.
As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Respectfully, Dr. Bob
[This message has been edited by History (edited January 15, 2011).]
I like the latest revision fine. I wouldn't mess with it, other than maybe to specify that it was a "Plantar's wart on her heel". (For those unaware, that's a wart that grows inward; can be quite painful if on a load-bearing point like the heel.) Tho on second thought I'm not sure I care to insert an extra word (breaks the rhythm).
When such is stated, I think I prefer any "true story" revelation coming afterward, so the tale is allowed to develop wholly on its own merit, rather than on the coattails of trueness.
BTW thanks for sharing the family history. Very interesting. It does indeed convey a sense of blessing and continuity rather than tragedy and loss.
The first version did not give me any pause or disbelief. However, the most recent version does give a better flow. I think it is a great way to start and the flow is smooth. I don't think adding to these first 13 lines would do much more then ruin what you have now.
Good flow, good believable dialogue and a good hook to draw a reader in.