But later never came


Mama is standing behind me as I sit at the dressing table. In the mirror I see her reflection. She is brushing my hair and smiling. She twirls ribbons through my curls and we giggle like naughty school girls.

I love school and I am a good pupil although I would rather play outside with my friends than do my homework. When Papa comes home from his office, he always says, “Leah, you must study. You can be a somebody if you learn. There will be time to play later!”

But later never came.

I am in the garden at the back of our house in Lodz It is the summer and the flowers are blooming. I love the flowers. My brother is tickling me. I fall on to the grass and curl up in a little ball, laughing uncontrollably. I hate to be tickled but I do love my brother. He is older than me, he has just celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. In the great synagogue, Papa beamed and Mama looked like a film star in her beautiful dress and fine hat. They invited the whole town to a fairy-tale ball and we ate a banquet and danced until midnight. “Mazeltov! Mazeltov!” I heard that word a thousand times that night. I had never seen my mother dance with such gaiety.

She never danced again.

I am just a child. I am frightened. I want to hide behind my mama. I want Papa to hug me and I want my brother to stand in front of me and act big, just like he did when the children in the town spat at me. I don’t understand why they did that. What did I do? They were my friends.

We are in Grandma’s house now. It’s September, 1939. I can smell that delicious aroma of chocolate cake rising in the oven. I can hardly wait for it to cool. Grandma is not her usual jolly self today. She cannot understand why her neighbours have stopped talking to her. She’s telling Mama all sorts of things in loud, breathless whispers. Mama puts her hands over my ears. “Not in front of the children,” she says.
Something is wrong. I just know it. Grandpa is sitting in his armchair holding his head in his hands. He was never young, I know that, but he looks so ancient today. His face is pale, his moustache twitches and he clenches his fists. Tears wet his eyes. Why is Grandpa looking so sad? Is he poorly? I was hoping that he would tell me a story later.

But later never came.

I can hear the local boys and girls laughing and playing in the street and I want to join them. Mama forbids me to go outside. “No,” she screams at me, and I am confused because I have not been naughty and Mama is never angry with me. She is now. Oh well, maybe later.

But later never came.

Mama packs my case, hurriedly. “Are we going on holiday?” I ask Papa. He does not answer me. I bring my teddy bear to Mama to put in the case. Why is she crying? My best friend, Clara, the daughter of the local priest, sent me a note. She wrote that she was no longer allowed to play with me but she was still my friend. I didn’t understand. I would show it to Mama and she could explain it to me later.

But later never came.

Little Leah was just one small child among over one million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis. For every child that perished in the Holocaust, there is another child who grows up in an atmosphere where incitement and loathing of Jews is still rife. There are those who even have the audacity to say that the Holocaust did not happen. There is no credible argument to counter an ignorance that believes its own truth.
That great lie and distressing insult is like a knife to the collective heart of the Jewish people. It is a travesty to the six million Jews, and millions of others who were so callously murdered and to the families that mourn lost loved ones, and to the survivors who lived to bear witness to the darkest days in modern history, who relive the nightmare until their dying days.
We remember, not just today on Holocaust Remembrance Day, but every day. We hold them in our hearts. Here in Israel, we stand upright and silent as the siren wails. We may bite our lips to stem tears that inevitably fall but we remain stoic.
Never again is having the courage to care. Never again is non-negotiable  and just as the natural passage of time takes our most enduring survivors of the Holocaust, we are charged with a mission to perpetuate the memory, to stem the tide of this vile phenomenon that erased our people. We must do this now.

There is no ‘maybe later’ because later never comes.