My emotions peaked when I approached the tile stove, next to which my divan once stood. It was a kind of upright floor-to-ceiling ceramic tile stove, the same one where Papa used to warm the eiderdown to cover me on cold winter nights.
I opened the creaky door. To my astonishment inside was a gas burner instead of the coal or wooden logs we used in my time. Still caressing the cold tile stove, as if merely by touching it I could reproduce the feelings of a pampered and sheltered infancy, I collapsed into a nearby chair. The river of tears would not stop flowing for several minutes, overwhelmed as I was by this physical contact with my past.
I stared lovingly at the French crystal-paned doors and the parquet floors we used to walk on. I could almost see Mama meticulously polishing it with the two brushes mounted on her shoes. I got goose bumps as I touched . . . the horizontal iron bar on which everyone used to beat the dust out of the rugs and on which we children exercised our athletic prowess.—Ruth Glasberg Gold, Ruth’s Journey: A Survivor’s Memoir
Chernivtsi, Ukraine, 1998:
When we accompanied our parents/parents-in-law, Lotte and Carl Hirsch, on their walk through the city of their youth in 1998, we realized how predominant critical and traumatic memories had become for them in the long period of their exile and emigration. Our visits to the public squares and central streets of the former Austrian Czernowitz enabled broad historical narratives to emerge. Walking, we heard accounts of the Romanian takeover of the city and province from the Austrians after World War I; of the process of Romanianization in the 1920s; of the Soviet annexation of the province in 1940, followed by the war and return of fascist Romanians with their Nazi allies; of the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in the city and deportations of Jews in 1941 and 1942. At relevant spots, we also listened to the stories of Carl and Lotte’s marriage in the Jewish ghetto, their avoidance of deportation, their survival during wartime, and the many dangers they succeeded in evading. Even though they had come on this return trip with powerful attachments and nostalgic reminiscences of the city in which they had spent their childhood and youth, in the place itself, they were time and again drawn to the sites where the Jewish community suffered humiliation and persecution. And we encouraged the visits to these sites as well, eager to deepen our own historical knowledge of the war period in Czernowitz/ Cernn auti with on-site reminiscences and evocations.
But when we walked along the city’s streets toward the houses in which they had spent their childhood and youth—when we entered the building where Lotte had lived the first twenty-seven years of her life and where, except for a brief period in the ghetto, she and Carl had survived the war—the two of us also expected to hear their more unambiguously positive recollections of home, friendship, and community that had provoked their return trip in the first place. Lotte had described this apartment in detail over many years and had made it clear that many loving memories of home and family life were associated with its spaces and the objects it had contained. We envisioned the visit there as one of the highlights of our journey. We were as eager to see the apartment itself as to observe Lotte and Carl’s reactions to their ability to view, touch, and smell the sites from their youth once again. For us, such participatory witnessing—offering some potential insight into a private lifeworld preceding (or resisting) the persecutions and deportations that came to eviscerate the city’s Jewish community—was what a visit to our parents’ former home had promised to convey.
The present occupant of the second-floor apartment on the former Dreifaltigkeitsgasse 41 (now Bogdana Khmelnitskogo ulitza, 63), a tall, arresting Ukrainian woman in her mid-forties, introduced herself to us as Nadja; she was slightly taken aback when we rang the doorbell, but was welcoming when, in halting...