Ellen with her parents, Israel and Malcia Geller.
It was finally time. Over six months I had interviewed almost all of my relatives who hailed from the small town of Podkamien and survived the Holocaust: from those who were teenagers at the time and had performed heroic acts beyond their years to those who were just young children, whose brief glimpses of the war have had lifetime impacts.
And now it was time for what I considered one of the most difficult interviews: my mother’s. Although my mother, Ellen Kamaras, isn’t a Holocaust survivor, she and my uncle, Marty, are the key links to uncovering my grandparents’ story.
My relatives have provided me with more than I could have imagined. Their stories of struggle and survival have given me a clear sense and timeline of what life was like for a Jew in Podkamien once the war broke out, therefore bringing me one step closer to understanding what my grandparents, Malcia and Israel Geller, experienced during the Holocaust. However, besides for one miraculous story that a relative told of my grandfather and his cousin hiding in a monastery, so far no relative was able to reveal much more about my grandparents’ time in hiding.
My mother knew the basics, she knew about my grandparents’ families and shared a few anecdotes that my grandparents always told during her childhood and stood as their representation of WWII. But to my mother, that wasn’t enough.
“There are a lot of missing pieces,” my mother, Ellen, said, “I do know other children of survivors who have told me their parents refused to talk about the war. My parents were not like that. They talked about it and yet I am sad and a little embarrassed that I don’t have more facts.”
Still there was something to be said about being the child of survivors and the importance of my mother’s second-hand accounts, though somewhat scattered. My mother emphasized how she felt my grandparents’ experiences in the war affected both them as well as my mother and uncle. It was clear that even though my grandparents never delved in to great detail about what they went through, the Holocaust was something that shaped their lives and the lives of their children, sometimes in the best of ways and sometimes not in the best of ways.
(Video: Ellen Kamaras discusses the effects of being a child of survivors)
Hearing how my grandparents’ experiences still resonated after all of these years made me gain a new appreciation for their stories, although there aren’t many. Moreover, it made me consider that maybe they didn’t want to dwell on the pain. Maybe this was how they wanted to be remembered, in the same way that they had described themselves during the war- courageous: my grandfather, Israel, bartering a fur coat for his life, my grandmother, Malcia, overcoming the deathly cold and lack of food.
For two people who lived humble lives in America, maybe all they wanted was to be remembered for what they were and always will be: heroes.