My vacation in Czechoslovakia is coming to an end. In a few days I will be returning to America, which means it is time to send postcards to my friends back home. Throughout the year I receive postcards from them inscribed with the usual greetings: "The country is beautiful," "Having a terrific time," "Wish you were here," etc. Frankly, I have yet to understand the purpose of these cards. Soon enough my friends will be describing their vacation and showing me pictures in person.
Nevertheless, I buy about 20 cards so as not to leave anyone out, and begin writing. I try to remember all the people who wrote to me. I think of a good friend who lives in my small town. Because I could walk to her house with my eyes closed, I have never written her address in my book. I am troubled because now I cannot even remember the name of her street. My memory, which has always been excellent, has begun to fail me. I try all kinds of memory tricks, but to no avail. I even take a walk, hoping that the street name will come to me. After several hours I still can't remember it. Is old age catching up with me? Is this a symptom of that unmentionable disease? I hope not.
Upon returning from my walk, I run into a woman in the lobby of our hotel whom I had met a few days earlier.
At this hotel, which also houses a well-known spa, I have met many fellow tourists. We all have one thing in common; we all immigrated to America after being trapped in Europe during World War II. Our English, though quite adequate, is still heavily accented. Instinctively, our first questions are "Where are you from?" and "How did you survive?" Each of us has a different story to tell and, although I thought I had heard it all, each new account leaves me astonished.
After exchanging cordialities, the woman tells me about her life now - her husband's prosperous business and her successful children - and then about her past.
As the only daughter of a well-to-do merchant, she had lived a life of privilege through most of her childhood. Her parents had always wanted more children, but her mother had difficulty conceiving again. Her father longed especially for a son, while her mother wanted more daughters. As the war was starting, her mother became pregnant and soon another beautiful girl was born. Four years of ghetto life under miserable conditions passed, then her mother gave birth to a baby boy.
The woman describes the joy her father felt. He sold his last possessions in order to buy food and drink to celebrate the birth. The woman still remembers the look on the face of her little sister, who for the first time in her unhappy life was witnessing preparations for a party and the sight of decent food. The woman recalls that her sister, on being instructed not to tell people about the food, stood outside the house and, without being asked, told passersby "there is no meat in our house."
A few days later the woman returned from work with her father to find an empty apartment. Their family had been taken away and killed. She herself was soon taken to a concentration camp and survived somehow. She never saw her father again.
The woman finishes her story, telling me, "You know, although I remember my childhood vividly and my memory is excellent, I can't for the life of me remember the name of my little brother. Many nights I lie awake trying to remember the names of my dear ones, but the name of the baby boy never comes back."
I can no longer feel bad about my own lapse of memory.