There Is No One Else To Say A Prayer For Them
It is the last day of Sukkot as I sit in our synagogue, listening to the rabbi's sermon. I had rushed to temple so as not to miss the Yizkor service. I sense that if I miss Yizkor I will offend my parents.
I must admit I am not following the rabbi's sermon. My mind is wandering back and forth. I see my mother, who according to the local custom of her day, only went to synagogue on the High Holy Days. I hear her telling me not to be late for Yizkor. She is dressed in new festive attire, wearing a lovely hat, reading from her Hebrew-only prayerbook, not understanding a word, and yet crying at the appropriate times, moved by the memory of her parents.
As I begin to read I do not cry, although I too loved my parents. I recite the name of my brother, who died as a child, and wonder what he would be like if he were alive today. I mention the name of a beloved aunt, then another, and as if not to insult any of the dead, I continue adding names - aunts, uncles, and cousins, then childhood friends, none of whom survived the Holocaust. There is no one else to say a prayer for them.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a long-forgotten face appears. It is that of a small boy, with a head full of black silky curls, two black buttons for eyes, another little button for a nose, two dimples, and a big smile. His name is Misio, which means "Teddy bear" in Polish. You could not help wanting to cuddle and hug him.
I had not thought of Misio for a long time. He was a cousin of a friend of mine, who had moved to our town during the war. Because of conditions at the time, my friend's family was living in the same small room as her cousin's family. I visited my friend daily, but seeing her was only a pretext. I really came to play with Misio. Perhaps it was because I had been forced to stop playing with dolls at too early an age. I loved to comb his hair and lace his tiny shoes. I drew pictures of him, and made toys for him out of newspaper.
He was a precocious 3-year old, full of mischief and jokes. My favorite was when he would say "My name is ____ and I am not Jewish at all." At the time I thought it was cute - it was not until later that I realized that his parents, a young lawyer and a pretty housewife, had taught him to give a fictitious gentile-sounding name, hoping this would enable him to survive.
Misio and I spent many afternoons playing together. His mother was happy to have a volunteer babysitter, for she was preoccupied with finding ways to exchange her few remaining pieces of clothing for food and milk, and to secure a hiding place for the boy. It had become obvious that all Jewish children would be annihilated.
My parents were able to smuggle me out of the Jewish part of town and into hiding. Misio's mother was not unsuccessful in her own efforts to do so for her child. Wanting to spare him any further suffering she managed to buy some poison and put it in warm sweet milk, and Misio took his very last nap. A few days later, when the Germans and Ukrainians came to their street, rounding up Jews to be killed, Misio's parents walked outside and volunteered to be taken. There had not been enough poison for the entire family, so his mother had done what she could for him.
Fifty years later, I add the precious little boy's name to my Yizkor list. I am not so strong after all and I begin to cry.