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Founder Rachel Mandula describes past and present events that led to the initiation of Remember-Together.

There are many stories at the bottom of my soul. Strong, painful, difficult stories. Still, a faith in life and in human beings springs out of them. I was born in 1942 in the industrial-agricultural town of Turda, Rumania. A town where Rumanians, Hungarians, Jews Gypsies and a few Armenians lived. There where many ways for praying to God; the Catholic, Orthodox, Reform, Unitarian, Pocaites, and, of course, the Jewish way. A town of religious tolerance. I was the only Jewish child born in this town during the War, and everyone rejoiced in me. It was the triumph of life. I was also the only Jewish child during all my school years. The perfect minority.

In Turda, my birthplace, a unique undertaking took place during the Holocaust. It was an organization which smuggled Jews from Hungary to Rumania across the border at Feleac. It was a joint undertaking of the Orthodox Jews and the Zionists. About 1,200 Jews, coming from different parts of Europe - Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary - were smuggled across the border with the assistance of Rumanian peasants and border guards, the former showing goodwill, the latter having been bribed by the community. Those smuggled in were hidden in Jewish homes for a few days, taught basic Rumanian and sent on to Bucarest, and from there by ship to Palestine.

I was a one year old baby on my mother's arms when the alarm sounded and our neighbors hurried to the bomb-shelter at the house's garden. My mother, with me in her arms, staid behind to make sure that those in hiding will not be exposed. I remembered the name of one man from my mother's stories about the refugees. His name was Halperin. He was a brilliant man, born in Poland, who drowned on board the refugees ship Struma, which sank in the Black Sea. The war was over. My parents went back to Cluj, my father's town, which during the war was under Hungarian control, and its Jewish population, including my father's family, was sent to Auschwitz. My parents and I lived in my father's family house. Survivors drifted back. Soup was always cooking on the stove. The survivors ate the soup, and mostly told stories, stories out of the oven. And me, a two years old girl, is there. Just being there.

In 1945 my sister was born, together with many other children born after the War. The Holocaust was not discussed in the Communist countries, only the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was glorified. My father also kept silent. He never spoke of his father or mother or four dead brothers, and his two sisters who came back also did not speak. A large mirror was hanging in my parents' bedroom, and next to it were the pictures of grandfather and grandmother, hung there by my mother. When we looked in the mirror, the dead grandparents were always in front of us. I know that my grandmother was taken on a Saturday, and had taken with her a dish of rice with plums, which she kept all the way, to have something to eat at the labour camp to which she naively believed they were being taken. She ended her life as ashes. But I carry within me her hope for life. The last report of my grandfather, while in forced-labour in a Polish wood, was that he was shouting his name at the top of his voice: "Mandula! Mandula! andula!" I heard his story from my mother after I grew up, but already as a child I knew it was my duty to commemorate his name.

We have been asking to be allowed to immigrate to Israel for 15 years, but were rejected time and again. Finally, in 1963 we were allowed to go. Years have passed, and the Holocaust was meaningless for me. During ceremonies I stood at attention, I watched the programs on television, and all of it was like things which had happened to somebody else. Until one day, by complete chance, a narrow crack had opened into the bottom of my soul. It was on Holocaust Memorial Day, when I was standing under the bridge leading to Beilinson Hospital, the siren which sounds throughout the country on this day was heard, and everybody stood at attention. Only one woman kept walking on the bridge. Somebody rebuked her, and she stopped next to me, saying apologetically "I'm in a great hurry". This incident lead me to ask many questions regarding the ways by which we remember and commemorate the Holocaust. Thus I began to search for another way to remember.

      Rachel Mandula

 

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