THE SUSTAINING POWER
OF FAMILY LOVE
H olocaust victims who survived the war commonly endured it alone, separated from family members who were killed or might be still alive in some other place. Some victims, however, managed to stay together with parts of their families, at least for a while. In these cases, parents and children, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers often were able to give each other physical support and spiritual strength.
A few stories in other sections of this book contain episodes about families suffering through Holocaust trials together, and about heroic acts by family members. The stories in this section, however, focus on specific, desperate, and courageous attempts of parents to save children, children to save parents, sisters to save sisters.
Several of these stories have a spiritual or psychological thrust, suggesting the power of parental love to sustain or save a child, even in absentia. In “The Promise, ” a dying mother exacts from her young daughter a promise to escape from their captors, risking her life in the wilderness. Fulfilling this pledge, the girl goes with the spiritual presence of her mother to find another, symbolic mother. In “A Dream of Milk, ” a girl near death is revived by a dream of her father. And in “In Praise of Manual Labor, ” parental teachings help to save a concentration camp prisoner.
Other stories are about courageous actions which save family members. In “A Mother's Courage, ” a woman improbably confronts Nazi soldiers and an Austrian police chief who have arrested her husband. In “Miracles, ” a husband and wife who are bent upon saving their daughter save themselves as well so that, in the end, their child will have a parent. “A Son in Deed” presents in sometimes wry, yet always sympathetic, terms a young man's efforts to sustain his father's life when they are together in a concentration camp.
The events in these stories stand for a deep Jewish commitment to the value of family unity, to bonds that no Nazi atrocity could finally break. The stories don't all have happy endings. But through their positive spirit they echo and counterbalance the underlying theme, throughout the book, of the writers' grief over the loss of their families.