Dr Judith Guedalia

A Plane Story: A Shoah Story

I pride myself on NOT being a creature of habit.   Well except when I fly (as a passenger), which I do a bit.   I have developed a pattern of sorts.   I have my 'flying outfit', which not only includes the clothes and sweater (not too warm not to light) I carry, but also my own earphones (comfortable and I know 'where' they have been), my music, bland and doesn't get interrupted by 'the cockpit' telling me that thousands of feet below me we are passing over Greece of somewhere else.    I also have my neck-pillow, so my sleeping head (I'm optimistic I will sleep) will not loll afar, and eye-shades to block out visual 'interference' , both 'booty' from the rare time(s) I was upgraded to the ever-civilized Business Class.  


 I'm sure I am not unique, but people do seem to end up speaking to me, and by speaking I mean confiding.  My husband jokes that I am the only one who can say: "Please pass the salt" at a dinner party, and end up with the person crying: "I know I have a bad relationship with my father".    (I'm not joking, this has indeed happened!)  Long transatlantic flights seem to have a loosening-of-lips affect on many people.  So once ensconced in my 'space' aloft, I try to be as uncommunicative as possible.    At any rate, I politely say hello to my immediate neighbor (I hope for a window seat, so that I only have one 'neighbor'), and soon put on my paraphernalia which is decidedly non-conducive to 'chatting'.   

As Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, approaches, I think about one particular flight, which took place at around this time of the year.   My 'neighbor' started crying soon after take-off, how could I sit there, eye-masked and neck-pillowed and not say a word?!?   In no time at all she told me that she was on her way to Israel to say goodbye to the man she loved.  This was not an obvious 'case' of the vicissitudes of young love, she was young looking but in her early seventies, and He, she told me, was in his eighties.   

Both had been divorced over fifteen years before, both had had children, both had lost a child, she had two more, he had none. They had met on a cruise and had fallen in love as 'youngsters might', and had 'courted' one another for over a year.    During his last visit to her in the States, he had bought her an engagement ring.  This was supposed to be the trip when they would have been married, she cried.

The story really began in the Holocaust, she told me.   He was away from his home when the nazi's (I refuse to capitalize that word!) rounded up the Jewish inhabitants, killed the men and boys and took the women away.   He was blond and didn't 'look' Jewish, and had heard about it from villagers in the town where he was studying.   He refused to believe the horrible news, and went back to the village under cover of darkness.   A young non-Jewish teenage girl whom he knew grabbed him and told him he had to hide, as the local villagers, his 'friends and neighbors' were searching for any Jews who had gotten away and were either turning them 'in' or killing them out-right.    Again he was too stunned to 'do' anything, but to continue on to his home.  It was only when he saw other people squatting in that home, did the awful truth sink in.    She, this young girl, had gone with him and now was beseeching him to go to her home to hide.  Her parents were away for a few days and no one would know.

She hid him in the area around the hearth.  There were loose bricks and her family had constructed a very small space to hold firewood and other items for the hearth.   For two years, he hid there, she brought him food and water in the middle of the night, and she removed his 'excrement' at the same time.   They left that eastern European country after the war, and married.   No, they had never really been in love, but how could he not marry the person who had saved his life?

He had done financially well in his 'adopted' country.   They might even have been considered wealthy.  They had a son.   When his son was twenty one years old, an avid aviator, he had bought him a plane.   On one of his son's maiden flights, the plane crashed, he was killed.   The marriage didn't survive this tragedy.   The couple separated and later divorced, he emigrated to Israel.   Fifteen years later, he went on a cruise and met her, my neighbor on the plane.

"We were all set to get married, when he called and crying on the phone, he said I needed to come to Israel, so that he could say goodbye in person.  I couldn't believe my ears, Goodbye, what are you talking about, I shrieked.  We're getting married!

"No, he said we couldn't.  His ex-wife had called, the first time in years, to say that she was diagnosed with terminal cancer.    How could I not go and be with her, and tend to her needs in these last months or years as she had once done for me.  At my age, this must be my last marriage."

What was there to say, here was yet another Shoah tragedy, haunting its victims to the end.


Originally published in the Jewish Press on May 10, 2006.

Tags: Divorce | Holocaust | Holocaust Memorial Day | Jewish Press | Shoah | Yom HaShoah