by Leah Wolff-Pellingra
This is the story of one life.
Her name was Mina Speier-Holstein. She was one of 15 children born in Cologne. She taught Home Economics and Physical Education. She had one son. On Kristallnacht, they found each other – Mina, her husband, Baruch, and her son, Jonas. They roamed the parks all night, afraid to go home. Jonas and Baruch are enlisted as slave laborers, working to build the AutoBahn. The family tries to hold out for visas to leave together. There is a work visa to England for Jonas, 18 years old. He must go if he is to live.
Mina presses a chocolate bar into Jonas’s hand. Says goodbye. She never sees him again. At age 91, Jonas runs his fingers over the carefully creased wrapper, showing it to his granddaughter.
In October 1941, Mina and Baruch are transported from slave labor in Frankfurt to the Lodz ghetto in Poland.
Baruch Wolff served in World War I and his family lived in the same German village, Pfungstadt, since the 1640’s. Baruch’s death in the Lodz ghetto from starvation and disease is meticulously recorded by the Nazi authorities.
Mina’s family had arrived in Cologne in the 1400’s and had served in the courts of the Holstein dynasty. The Nazis diligently record her presence on a transport to Auschwitz in May 1942. She never enters the camp.
It haunts me: Where did my great grandmother die? Struggling for air in the cattle cars? Too weak to stand on the platforms? Walking naked, huddled against the cold, into the showers?
Had she heard enough, had enough word reached back, had a hand pressed whispering along the only kindness possible at that moment – where to stand so that the gas would take her quickly?
How long did she have to be afraid before she was gathered up into death?
I rock her great great granddaughters. They run through sweet grass, sing laugh, run onto Mina’s son Jonas’s knees, calling, “Opa!”
I am Leah Mina bat Lev v’Rut. I carry one name of the 6 million Jewish lives lost, the millions more cut down and gone, their lives broken off at the root.
Yet the names and The Name remain.
Zichrona Livracha. May their memories be for a blessing. May we never forget that we have the power and the strength to pursue justice all of our days.
Leah Wolff-Pellingra is the Cantorial Soloist and Family Worship Coordinator at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, N.Y., and a student in the Executive Masters in Jewish Education program at HUC-JIR.