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Signs Of Life

Columns by Pamela Majteles

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Rachel Shtokfish

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Posted by pam on February 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Originally published February 4, 2011

Reprinted with permission from Bay Area News Group — East Bay

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a little girl named Rachel Shtokfish.  I never met Rachel, who died in 1942 when she was nine years old, but my daughter talks about her.

My daughter, Lily, has become acquainted with Rachel while preparing for her Bat Mitzvah, the Jewish ceremony that recognizes 13 year olds as young adults.  Lily received Rachel’s name and biography from Remember Us, an organization that invites those who are approaching their Bat Mitzvahs to remember and, in some way, honor a child who died in the Holocaust.

According to the given information, Rachel was born in 1933 to parents Lea and Yosef Shtokfish.  She lived in Lublin, Poland and she died in 1942 in the Holocaust.

It wasn’t much.  My daughter plans to honor Rachel by sharing the memory of her with gathered family and friends at her Bat Mitzvah.  If possible, she wanted to try and find out more about her life.

Remember Us suggests doing research and provides the names of websites with databases on Holocaust victims. Together, Lily and I found a record written in Hebrew by a cousin of Rachel’s who survived the war.  It offered the same scant information, although it specified that Rachel was born in Lublin and lived there for the extent of her life.

Still searching for more, Lily decided to research the life of Jewish people in Lublin before the war.  “It could give me an idea of what Rachel’s life was like,” she explains.

She learned that Lublin had been an important center of Jewish religion, education, culture, and social life, where Jewish people made up one-third of the population.  There were 12 synagogues, two Jewish newspapers, a Jewish hospital and Jewish citizens owned many businesses and participated in a wide variety of commercial and social organizations.

Then Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, and everything changed in Lublin.  The Jewish people were forced out of their homes and businesses into a Jewish ghetto, where they lived until around April 1942, when the majority was sent to the Belzec extermination camp in southeast Poland.  The remaining Jewish people were sent to the nearby Majdanek concentration camp in November 1942, and the ghetto was demolished.

My daughter doesn’t take time to dwell on the tragic end of Rachel’s life, perhaps because she saw it coming, like already knowing the ending of a book before you read it. Finding out about life in Lublin prior to the war seems to fill in some blanks, because Lily says, “I feel as if I know her a little better.”

Despite everything we don’t know about her, Rachel has become real to us.  While talking about her, she has taken shape in our thoughts.

Most of the time, it feels gratifying to bring the memory of Rachel to life, no matter how little we know.  It’s a positive act coming out of a dark event.  I sense how meaningful it is to my daughter to simply remember her.

But at times, I must admit that I find it hard to think about Rachel at all.  I’m overcome by the horror of her experience, even though it happened so long ago.  I feel a piercing sensation in my chest, physical pain over the loss of this little girl, something no mother ever wants to imagine.

It’s the same feeling I had recently when I learned of the nine-year-old girl who died in Tucson.  Another little girl lost before her time.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

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