German Patrols on Piotrkowska Street


Portrait of Marek, Lodz 1929, Tel Aviv

Excerpt adapted from the story German Patrols on Piotrkowska Street

A decade before his cousin Dawid observed "German patrols on Piotrkowska Street," * Meir Sheracoviak posed for his high school portrait at the local gymnasium. It was 1929. Just one camera frame survives to reveal my father-in-law's handsome demeanor at this milestone. The creamy-colored likeness is now a burnt shade of ash on the back of the picture. Here, a few words in Polish are still discernible, like his memories at ninety.
     In 2003, my family gathered in Tel Aviv to celebrate Meir's birthday. My husband, Shlomo, unfolded a map of Łódź. Meir's middle finger slid up and down the boulevards as he searched for the locations of his boyhood haunts. At 192 Piotrkowska Street, Meir's finger froze. Shlomo made a faint cross mark and then scribbled a note to himself in Hebrew—Meir's birthplace. My son Ori observed as his father and his grandfather bantered in Yiddish, Hebrew and a smattering of Polish. Their lingua franca was babble to him.
     Shlomo reflected: "At ninety, before my father lost his memory, he was able to navigate on the map like a GPS. He knew every street, every house number. It was amazing. When he was much younger, he recalled his childhood stories in broad strokes, without shading or details. It was only in the last couple of years of his life, when I would come to visit him that he would expound on the details of his life, almost forcing me to know, so that I could transmit his stories, carry his life on."

*The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak: Five Notebooks from the Łódź Ghetto

Letter from Lodz

Excerpt adapted from the story German Patrols on Piotrkowska Street

Every year on Yom Kippur, Meir said Kaddish for his father, who, at age sixty, perished in the Łódź ghetto. No death certificate was ever issued for this pious Jew, whose gait was frozen in step on a Łódź boulevard years a decade before the Germans patrolled Piotrkowska Street. An anonymous photographer made an enduring record.
     Shlomo recalled, "My father never took this picture of his father out and said, 'Look at this image. This is your grandfather. This is how he dressed.' Nothing. The picture was only for him. Now when I look at it, I see my grandfather's signature is there, still readable, Shlomo Yitzhak ben Meir (Shlomo Isaac, son of Meir). My namesake and my father's namesake are written there. The letter my grandfather penned on the backside of his portrait is written in Yiddish and [the salutation] opens: 'With the help of God.'"

Saba Meir's ID

Excerpt adapted from the story German Patrols on Piotrkowska Street

In 1946, the government of Palestine issued Meir a pink identification card permitting him to reside in Tel Aviv. Scarcely visible today is the message: "Possession of this card in no way constitutes evidence of legal residence in Palestine."
     The year Meir received this I.D., the government of Britain dismantled the Jewish Brigade Group. Meir had enlisted in 1944, the year the British Army formed this military force in Palestine.
     Shlomo explained, "Like all the Jews in the Polish army, my father deserted when he arrived in Tel Aviv. Within months he joined the Brigade. After a brief stint training in Egypt, my father's unit fought one historic battle against the Nazis on Italian soil. Then the war ended…When my father arrived in Palestine, he had nothing from Poland. The pictures arrived years later—I don't know from where. Just one picture of himself and one picture of his father, that's all he had. A childhood reduced to two pictures. The map and his memories are like a virtual album."

Ahava (Love) at Fifty

Excerpt adapted from the story German Patrols on Piotrkowska Street

In 1947, Meir and Tola met in Tel Aviv. He was a war widower. She was a survivor. Tola's blissful adoration for her husband was recorded in one gaze—this wedding picture. Whitewashed were their memories of past love and war.
     Shlomo reflected, "My parents had a traumatic life. Not just my parents, but also their whole generation. What amazes me is how these people suffered at the prime of their life and then went on and had families."