Forever Remembered

May 26, 2008
By Lauren DeChambre, Park Ridge, IL

Forever Remembered

My family is made up of survivors. We’re all very different in personalities, but we share that one quality. The experiences in our lives and the stories we have been told tell us what people have been through and they make us stronger. They’ve shaped who I am as a person.
Nana was a kind hearted woman – friends with everyone she met; but there was more to my great grandmother that met the eye. Bertha Staak not only lived through the terrible days of the Holocaust, but she had a great story to tell with it. In the 1930’s, she had been working in a hotel of a relative in Amsterdam so she could visit her mother in Germany. She would smuggle food to her mother just about every week, and one week the Nazis caught her and took her in captivity because she was bringing good to a Jewish woman – like herself. The Nazis took her to a concentration camp known as Dachau. She was only there for about a year or so, but during that time, she faced many near death experiences. Nana and some of the others in the camp were put up against a firing wall for the simple purpose of killing them. As each person was shot down to the ground, my nana passed out from fear, or maybe because of being weak, and fell down with them – only not to her death. Appearing as though everyone was dead, the fire squad left them there for the night. However, every night, a Catholic priest would sneak through the fence of the concentration camp and bless the people who had been killed that day, and on that particular night, he found Nana. Now, we don’t know how much of that is true, but that’s the way she told it.
That same priest that helped her through the camp that night helped her escape Europe too. First she was brought to Israel where she converted from Judaism to Christianity. She said that the only reason she converted was because the minister helping the people to go to America favored helping Christians over Jews. After converting, she arrived in America around 1938 where she met a man, whom after time, created the DeChambre family with her. She kept the family going, even when she was in her mid 40’s and had another child on top of her other three children which she had earlier in her life. Nana was in the newspaper for the unbelievable birth she had given and was forever known by everyone for that, but more so for being the kind and loving person that she was. She fought through the one of the toughest times any person could go through, and she survived.
I, on the other hand, also went through a time of survival. It was when I was ten years old: one of the most terrifying moments of my life. It was the day of our first and last family canoe trip. I had been canoeing before, but none were like this one. The river was rough and the rapids were thrashing like I’d never seen before. All of our families gathered together early in the morning: my family, my grandparents and my aunt and her two kids. We checked in at the front desk and we were directed to our four steel canoes. At first we divided ourselves up by family, but it didn’t take long for us to realize that was a mistake. My grandparents had their own canoe, and no matter what they did, they couldn’t seem to keep their canoe above water. The situation with my aunt and two cousins wasn’t too different either. This was their first time canoeing so they were just as lost as my grandparents were. Within minutes, two sets of flip-flops were sailing down the stream, and all of my cousins precious V8 juices were trailing behind. A change had to be made and it was determined that my family would split up because we knew what we were doing the most. I was sent to go with my grandmother and she and I were on our own. It wasn’t until we had already made the switch that we realized the hardest part was yet to come.
As we glanced up ahead down the river, we saw the waves crashing down harder in between obstacles of tree branches and logs. My grandmother and I held to our ores tight but that wasn’t enough. When we started hitting the rapids, my grandmother, who was in front, started to “steer the way through” not knowing that it was the person in the back who had control of direction. She lost more and more control and the canoe began to sway back and forth as she stumbled her way around in the canoe. The ore slipped loose of her hands. Unsure of what to do, my grandmother stood up in the canoe and tried walking back to help me. To her surprise, the boat tipped over. For her it wasn’t much of a problem, but I was too short to touch the bottom of the river and I was rushed away quickly with the current. Trying to grip on to anything I could, I scraped my arms and legs on boulders and logs in my way. I felt as if I was going to get swept down the entire river, or even worse, drown.
Finally, I was able to get a hold of some roots on the side of a dirt wall and I yelled for my dad. He was already farther down the river than we had been, so for him to save me he had to get out of his canoe and fight the current himself. He did it. Once he reached me, I was already shaking so much in fear that I had no more strength left and he had to push me up the rest of the crumbling wall. Once I made it to the top I saw that the entire ground was covered in thorn bushes. At that point, I was too tired to think about the scratching thorns attacking my legs, so I kept trudging to the canoe drop off. At the end of the day, we had to sacrifice one canoe and a cooler of refreshments, but we all survived through it and pushed forth together.
These two stories, though very different in actuality, show the same feelings of fear and survival. They taught me to never give up no matter how hard the going gets. Later on in life, I think these stories could tell future generations that there is a way through everything but you shouldn’t take what you get on the way for granted. I know that stories, including these, have helped make me stronger as a person and proud of who I am.

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