Through a mother’s eyes

Imagine yourself the mother of two young sons, struggling to protect your family from a government that’s deemed you worthy of death. Today, as we recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m especially mindful of mothers who’ve lived in such a world.

With each passing year, some folks find it easier to equate the Holocaust with a mere historical event — forgetting the families whose lives were forever changed by the twisted terror of Nazi Germany. Today I’m putting a face on those families — thanks to Harold Minuskin, who lives in Northern Arizona.

Minuskin and his younger brother survived the Holocaust while many in their midst perished. Much of their journey is recounted by mother Sonia Minuskin’s memoirs, translated and annotated by Harold Minuskin.

I’ve been reading “My Children, My Heroes: Memoirs of a Holocaust Mother” this week — grateful for the window it opens into the lives of Jewish parents and children during Hitler’s time in power.

Minuskin’s son Harold has translated and annotated his mother’s recollections and reflections, written mostly in Yiddish, about life during the Holocaust. Sonia Minuskin died Nov. 7, 2008 at the age of 102.

Our daughter Jennifer met Minuskin last November, and thoughtfully asked him to sign a copy of the book — which became a cherished birthday gift not long after.

We think we face tough choices today. Which preschool to pick. What foods to feed our family. Where to spend vacations. How to save money for college. But Minuskin’s mother faced harder decisions by far.

They’re eloquently revealed in the pages of Minuskin’s work, despite her insistence that “language is too poor or inadequate to write and to tell you what I went through with my dear ones.”

“It was in the year 1939 when the Germans first entered our small town of Zhetel,” she writes. “The Germans began by asking us for all our good and possessions.” Jews weren’t allowed to use sidewalks or transportation, and were ordered to wear a yellow Star of David.

Her memoir recounts “the panic of the young children in the laps of their mothers,” and shares that parents who considered suicide had to ask themselves this question: “First the children, or first the adults?”

When their village was surrounded on April 6, 1942, Minuskin and her children ran to a backyard hiding place under the toilet. “My children survived,” she writes, “on a lick of sugar that I remembered to bring with me.” Later they escaped to a nearby forest, which was home until their liberation by the Russian army in 1944.

Maybe today we can all fret a little less about white versus wheat and stripes versus solids — pausing instead to remember both those who perished and those who survived the Holocaust. And making our way in the world ever mindful of ways we can stop and prevent such horrors.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Holocaust Remembrance Day, search for remembrance events in your area or watch a live broadcast of the national remembrance ceremony. Click here for information about the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association, and here to explore Holocaust-related materials from Yad Vashem in Israel.

Coming up: Exloring the Anne Frank Center in NYC, Bringing a Holocaust museum to Arizona

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