Yesterday's Magazette

8 – Haunted By A Picture

Haunted By A Picture

By Jane Allen

As I gazed at the two adorable faces staring out at me from the photograph I thought how young and innocent they both looked, neither one having any idea of the horror the future would hold. I have always been drawn to this picture whenever I looked through the old family album. The girls, wearing dirndls, were curtsying. Each had a mischievous grin on her face, my mother and her cousin Liesl, at seven. 

My mother grew up in New York City, raised in a traditional Jewish household by her maternal grandparents. Liesl grew up in Vienna, Austria, where her father was a physician. Often during my mother’s childhood her grandparents took her to Vienna to visit their relatives in their large comfortable home on the outskirts of the city. The two girls spent many happy hours playing together. One of their favorite activities was riding ponies in the park. As these European visits lasted for several months, my mother quickly picked up the German language and was able to converse with her relatives quite easily.

The summer of 1928, my mother spent three months with Liesl and her family. When my mother bid Liesl goodbye that August, she had no idea this would be the last time they would see each other. That summer they were fourteen years old and, as budding adolescents, they shared with each other their hopes for the future. Both girls, being only children, dreamed of marrying a handsome prince and having a large family. This would be my mother’s last trip to Europe for forty years. Her grandmother died in 1930 and she gradually lost touch with the Vienna cousins.

When my mother was twenty-two she married, converted to Protestantism and moved to the Midwest, where her first two children were born. She was preoccupied with her new life as a wife and mother and felt somewhat removed from what was happening in Europe. 

She heard the rumors occasionally, about Hitler and the Jews, but tended to dismiss them as too horrific to even consider. At one point she wrote to Liesl at her last known address, but never got an answer. As the war wore on and more news became available about the concentration camps, she became quite concerned. She wrote to her aunts to see if they had any information about the European cousins. No one had heard from any of them since 1938.

When the war was over and the whole appalling story of the Holocaust came out, my mother feared the worst, that her cousins had been exterminated in the concentration camps. Through the Red Cross she tried to find out the fate of the Freidenstahl family, but she never had any luck. For a long time she held onto the hope that Liesl, perhaps married with a different name, would be found. However, no one in my mother’s family ever heard from any of the Freidenstahls again.

I know my mother always felt that the story of Liesl was unfinished business. The picture of those two girls, one of whom was able to live the full measure of her life and the other whose life was brutally stolen by hideous monsters, will always be with me. It is part of my legacy. Though nothing could ever put closure on a story such as this one, it is what we, the survivors, must carry with us and pass on to our children and grandchildren.

*Jane Allen, a retired educator, lives with her husband in Venice, Florida and Barnstable, Massachusetts. She has been a member of the Venice Library Writer’s Group for nine years. She wrote a book about her mother, Jeanne’s Story. It is available from Xlibris and Amazon. She has also had an article published in Cape Cod View Magazine.

Vol. 38 No. 2 – Copyright © Yesterday’s Magazette


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