My Blue Room


Irene Frisch with sister Pola and
housekeeper in the Summer of 1939
before the invasion of Poland.

Autumn. Every year at this time, I am filled with a sense of nostalgia. I tell myself that this feeling is brought about by the passing of another summer, which in turn marks the winding down of another year. But I know, in my heart, that September signifies more than just the end of the season or the year. It signifies the anniversary of the end of my short, precious childhood.

I was only 8 years old on Sept. 1, 1939, yet that was the last day I felt or acted like a child. I miss the lost years of my childhood and, although I am satisfied with my adult life, I am deeply aware of my loss. I often think, 'what would have happened if…'

Let me return for a moment to my brief childhood: I grew up in an affluent family in a small, prosperous town in Poland. I was the youngest of three children. My father was a smart, successful businessman, but was somehow oblivious to the signs of disaster approaching Europe. In 1939, he built us a custom designed home and my mother traveled to big cities to buy new furniture. I was proud and happy to move into a beautiful new blue room with my sister, who was slightly older and much admired. I still remember waking up in my blue bed very close to her, whose own bed was separated from mine by a blue night table. I felt so grown up and did not appreciate how precious my childhood was.

On Sept. 1, 1939, my sister shook me from my sleep, excitedly, to tell me that there was a war and that our father was called up to the army. I did not comprehend the word "war" and, to me, the "army" meant soldiers marching in a parade during national holidays. I soon learned that our father was an officer in the reserves and that he had been summoned during the night.

After breakfast, my siblings and I ventured into town. The streets were full of people reacting to the unusual situation. Some were digging trenches and I found a shovel that was taller than me and joined in. Other people were preparing makeshift gas masks from gauze material or converting their basements into shelters. The community was unprepared and naive in its efforts to confront a war.

On the second day of war, we received news that my favorite aunt, mother's youngest sister, was killed by one of the first German bombs. Mother was heartbroken. There was no end to her tears. This was my introduction to death, which would later become a common feature in my life. I quickly learned not to be a baby and not to impose on mother.

In rapid succession, our town was occupied by the Germans, then the Russians, then the Germans again. For us, Sept. 1 marked the start of a long ordeal that today is simply termed Holocaust.

Within one month of that day, I lost my dear brother, who was only 14 years old. Father managed to return home in time to witness the death of his only son and to bury him. Again, mother took it the hardest, turning into an old woman overnight. She never stopped crying over the loss of her firstborn.

I too missed my brother greatly, but I knew that I must not mention him. I could not comprehend that he was gone forever. I would constantly run to the door, hoping for his return at any time.

With the new occupation by a hostile army, we were forced to hastily leave our new house. I parted with my blue room and with my childhood. The furniture was shipped to a family in Hamburg with two children, whose names I still remember today.

All that time on the run, during the next five years of my life, I hoped that I would wake up and find myself in my blue room. I hoped all that had happened was only a nightmare.

Men in uniform, who had once provided lively music and who had marched in parades, were transformed into killers. I was only a child, yet I managed, like an adult, to evade them.

More atrocities. Death was a recurring event, a constant companion. I lost many uncles, aunts cousins, and classmates. I was hiding, starving, running, and always hoping to wake up. It had to be a dream; it could not be reality. When I felt threatened, I would pinch myself, hoping to wake up a little girl again in my blue bed.

Miraculously, we did survive. Our family was separated, reunited, and freed in 1944 by the Russian army. I resumed my studies afterwards with great fervor, trying to make up for the lost years. After living in many countries I arrived in the United States, where I married, had children, and enjoyed a successful career. After having two children, I managed to steal some rays of childhood by learning their songs and reading their books. I did this unintentionally.

Although I am grateful for many things in my life, I still grieve over my lost childhood. In September of this year, I again long for my blue room and my blue bed.