In my continuing quest to document my family’s history, I had an unusual conversation with my mother today. I am trying to get a gauge on what life was like for her growing up in a post-war Communist Eastern Europe. So I have been asking her numerous questions that might seem silly or inconsequential yet have been churning out the most interesting observations.
“Did you ever see something that somebody else had that you wanted while you were growing up?” I was curious to learn the kinds of things that my mother wished she had received – the kinds of things other little girls had – hoping to gain some more perspective on her upbringing and life.
My mother just sat there across from me nibbling her corn muffin and pondering the question. I could think of hundred things I wanted when I was little that other kids had: bicycles, Hello Kitty pencil cases, various articles of clothing.
And then it dawned on me.
“Had you ever even experienced envy growing up?”
I knew the answer.
How could she have when there was nothing.
Nothing to envy.
Mom was probably the first – or among the first- of the children born into her village following the war. Her birthday is July 27, 1946 (sorry for letting the world know your age, Mom). She was born a little over a year after the liberation of the Death Camps.
At the time, to be sure, nobody in her village in Negresti, Romania had anything, save the clothes on their back. Rich. Poor. Those labels ceased to exist and were replaced with survivor. Everything in the village had been taken long before its residents were herded and shipped off to the concentration camps and slave labor.
So the ones – the survivors – who actually returned, returned with and to nothing. Even the non-Jewish population was left with nothing as the communists confiscated their possessions as well.
A child growing up into a society that had nothing and suffered as it had was content with the simple function of breathing. Materialism and the gambit of emotions that entailed envy, was non-existent for a little girl or boy, even though the adults surrounding her did – in a previous lifetime – experience those feelings.
How could she have ever experienced such base and basic feelings of envy and jealousy, the way children typically do when she was the among the first to be born into a society that was stripped – literally – of every earthly possession and continued to struggle to regain its former self.
Nobody had anything.
Think about how many things you wished for as a kid. Now think about what it might feel like to not even have the capacity to experience those feelings, if you even can.