Debbie Findling's father at 10 years old, on the ship that brought him to America. He's in the first row wearing glasses. (COURTESY FINDLING)
Debbie Findling's father at 10 years old, on the ship that brought him to America. He's in the first row wearing glasses. (COURTESY FINDLING)

Compared with what our ancestors dealt with — we can do this

I’ve gotten to know the rooms in my house better since the coronavirus shelter-in-place.

I hadn’t previously noticed how the sun creates a midday show on the wall. Or the way the palm trees seem to jazz-hand wave in the wind. In my living room, there’s a photo of my dad taken when he was 10 years old. He’s leaning through the open deck handrails of the ship that had just brought him to America. My dad’s smile brims with optimism; his eyes sparkle with hope.

My dad had spent the past three weeks traveling from Nazi-occupied Europe in the cramped quarters of the rickety, rodent-infested ship. Two years earlier, when he was just 8, his father was shot into a mass grave. My dad fled from Germany to Belgium with his mother and siblings.

For five months, he and his siblings moved from a series of hiding places that included a convent and orphanage while their mother hid in the attic of a nearby home.

My dad became an orphan when the Nazis discovered his mother’s hiding place; she was shipped to Auschwitz and gassed upon arrival. My dad escaped Belgium with his brothers on a freight train, hiding in a cramped boxcar for weeks as the train winded its way through the European countryside to an unknown destination, eventually stopping in Southern France.

My dad, along with 100 other children, scrambled off the train into the hills, where they hid for 18 months, subsisting on wild potatoes they dug from the ground, fearing constantly for their lives as the war surrounded them.

As I bemoan the state of my current shelter-in-place, the lack of face-to-face connection, endless Zoom meetings and long lines at the grocery store (only to be disappointed by the lack of baking flour on otherwise amply stocked shelves), I’m reminded of the photo of my dad that’s hanging on my living room wall and I think: I can do this. We can do this.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Debbie Findling

Debbie Findling is co-founder of the Memory Garden in Colma, a sacred Jewish place to mourn fertility loss, and a philanthropic adviser in San Francisco.