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Why I want to know who I am

Today, while at my grandmother’s house, my sister was getting measurements for her prom dress. I wandered, as I was known to do from time to time. I went to all the pictures she had set up. There was one of her, looking like America’s Next Top Model, and right below that, there was a picture of a family, a rather large family, probably taken in the early 1900’s.

“Who’s that?” I asked when I felt her venture up behind me.

“Well, oh gosh that’s grandpa right there. He must have been about twelve there.” She says, pointing to the boy on the very left of the frame. By grandpa, she meant hers, no mine. I smile.

“Wow. It’s that old?” I ask. She nods. Her and my sister begin talking, but I continue to look at the pictures. There’s my mom and aunt in their prom dresses from the nineties. My grandma says something about looking for her picture of prom. She disappears from the room. My sister and I then turn back to the picture of my beautiful grandmother.

“She was beautiful.” MY sister whispers.

“She still is.” I say firmly. My grandmother isn’t little and wrinkled and grey like most. She’s young and vibrant, with long dark red hair. She still looked like a model to me.

Grandma comes back into the room, with an old leather bound book. She opens it. It’s full of pictures like the old one in the frame. I stare at them, feeling an urge to reach out and touch them, but I hold back, because they look like they could break at any moment.

“Oh wow, this is back in Poland.” She says. Aside from how they are dressed, it all looks eerily familiar to the foothills of my own home. I say so. She nods.

We flip through the pages of the old book. I look at the landscape, and the members of my family that I will never get to meet. I still felt connected to them.

“They were some of the first to come over from the village.” Grandma says. What a fright that must have been, coming to a new country, and being some of the first from your home? It’s frightening, even to me.

“That was Grandpa’s oldest sister.” She says, pointing to a girl with a small smile. She looked like my grandma, but reminded me of Mona Lisa, because of her smile. “They left her there.”

“Why?” My sister asks.

“Oh, I think she was engaged to be married or something. Look, that’s how they spelled Malyurek. She says. There it is on the paper. Malyjurek. “They dropped the J when they came here.” I have to wonder why. Was it because they were ashamed? No, with a name like that, anyone could tell they were from Poland.

“Look at Grandpa, he was a ladies man in his day.” she says. I have to smile, because the woman in the picture is not his wife, that had to make her happy. But she was a jovial woman. I remember her from my youth, She would have coped well.

And then I see the picture. It was a nephew, of one of the men that came over with my family. Under it, the caption read; ‘killed by the Gestapo, 1945’.

“Who were the Gestapo?” My sister asked. I stared at her dumbly for a moment. She was 17 years old, how could she not know who the Gestapo were?

“Nazi police.” I tell her.

“Oh,” She falls silent. I do too after that picture, even though the images kept coming. What was it like? I felt ashamed, because so many innocent Jewish had died as well. I had to find out what happened. I had to find out how the people would have reacted to the Nazi take over. I had to or I’m sure it will kill me. I have to know who I am.

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