My 96 Year Old Mother

Today, on this day of remembrance for the Fallen of our Israel, my mother turns 96. Born in Beeregsasz in Hungary/Czechia/Romania/Ukraine, half-orphaned in her teens, she moved to Budapest with her father and brother, just in time to face removal to the Ghetto. At 17, wearing the yellow star, she watched her father being marched away, never to be seen again. A day later, she and her brother, were marched to the border of her once-venerated Hungary. Loaded in a cattle-wagon she survived the hellish trip to Dachau. Then, selection, Left, death. Right, life. Life in hell.

She only had her rucksack and kept her toothbrush for the entire time in the concentration camp, a precious relic of normal life before the Shoah. As a German speaker, she translated orders for fellow-inmates and saved them punishment and beatings.

After 9 months of Typhoid, starvation, hard labour, frozen Appells, sleep deprivation, punishments and utter isolation, Mutti experienced her 18th birthday on a death march to the main camp, towards extermination, but her turn never came. A week later, with Liberation, the Americans came. Her gentle and modest nature prevented her from gorging her starved body which prevented her suffering the tragic fate that befell other victims, who died from refeeding syndrome.

Cut to 88 years later, after a life lived fully (variously in Rumania, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Austria and, finally, longed-for Switzerland) with her larger-than-life husband, the vital force, our father Binek, she remains the vibrant matriarch of a family of 22, with two more on the way into the life that she and Papa built for us after the Calamity.

We, her three children, and many others just celebrated her birthday in her beloved flat where she remains, living independently at the heart of the Zurich community. Happy Birthday!

Source: Michael Zur-Szpiro