The Memory Bank
Every intersection, every corner, every doorway has a story, for the stories we tell, the stories we pass on, bear witness to our lives. In 1987, my mother was in her senior year of high school when she entered her school auditorium to listen to a guest speaker. Selene Bruk was a survivor who shared her story about the Holocaust. My mother sat in the front row, engaged in every word this captivating woman spoke with such passion, emotion and conviction. Mrs. Bruk stated that when the Holocaust was over, she wanted to wrap up her experiences, not think, talk or remember it, but she couldn’t, she felt compelled to share her story. Twenty seven years later that very name, Selene Bruk, and her story crossed my path while researching Holocaust survivors. This intersection of sorts was not merely a meaningless accident or coincidence, but rather, a tapestry of events that culminated in a bigger plan, a plan for me to hear and ...view middle of the document...
Pandemonium erupted, two thousand men were ushered into the largest temple in Bialystok; an incendiary device released inside, the men were burned alive, the screams resounded through the streets. Mrs. Bruk broke down crying as she recalled the terrifying memories of that day. Clearly memories have a way of taking hold.
In a home in hiding she and her family went, her new normal, her story, became her future. From the attic in the home they could hear the Germans torturing the Jews, identified by the yellow Star of David that they had to wear. Shots rang out and ovens worked overtime burning people to death, the chimneys released a foul odor that would remain with Selene a lifetime. Soldiers entered their home. Hiding under a bed, Selene could see her own reflection in the officer’s polished shoes. She was terrified that the pounding of her heartbeat against the wood floor would most certainly give her away. He stopped, stood and listened – nothing. The officers were so abrasive with their every move and word, they sounded like barking dogs, Selene recalled. One of those in hiding with the Bruk family was a young mother with an infant. To avoid detection, the mother muffled the sounds of the stirring baby with a pillow over its face. They were not discovered but at what expense? The infant had died, accidentally suffocated by its own mother. Existence was theirs, but at the cost of great pain. Selene knew that her story would end in Poland either because she would die there, or because she could not return to a country that was marked with so much blood, she would not be able to escape the memory.
Countries apart, decades gone by, but Ms. Bruk, my mother, and I are now connected, our stories have intertwined. Ms. Bruk’s testimony, experiences and memories held hope. Her hope didn’t pretend that the pain, cruelty and torture of millions of Jews didn’t exist. Her hope is that it wouldn’t last forever, and that all hurt and wrongs will be healed and obstacles overcome. Selene stated that “history repeats itself”, she asked that we fight anti-Semitism. The tapestry of events that brought me here was no doubt a thought provoking and profound journey for me, one I promise to honor in her lasting memory.