Shoah

Her name was Ann Chervin.
I don’t know much about her.  I don’t know which concentration camp she and her husband, Marion, were in or how they got out.  I don’t know how her husband and their adult child, Eve, preceded Ann in death.  Or why Eve was childless when she died.
But I do know Ann liked red roses.  I know she custom ordered her oak veneer kitchen cabinets from a place in Torrance in the 1970s.  I know she let her ficus trees grow rampant and that must not have been very tall, because her bathroom sinks were installed slightly lower than you’d expect.
I know all these intimate details about Ann, because I live in her house.  People say it takes six months for a new home to feel like your own, but it’s been three years, and I still sometimes feel like the caretaker.
For one, I still get her mail.  Mostly stuff from survivor groups and Shoah foundations, particularly at this time of year.  More deeply than that, though, Ann’s spirit is still here.  I don’t mean that in a haunted house kind of way; just in the sense that the touches she put in her home are still very much present: The mezuzah she kissed every day is still here, tucked in a drawer in my living room.
Her red rose bush is still here, too, the only plant that survived the year between her death and the time her home went on the market.  I have a strict policy for my garden: I’ll only plant you if I can eat you.  But I made an exception for Ann’s roses.  A survivor’s only surviving plant deserves love.
Then there are the intangibles.  I think about her when I chop vegetables at my kitchen counter for my family.  I am certain Ann did the same for hers.  Did she roll up her sleeves the way I do?  Or did she keep them down to hide the numbers tattooed on her arm?
And what about the fact that her daughter died?  I think about that when I read about the Six Million Coins project.  It’s a program in Los Angeles to collect money for Holocaust survivors in need.  As part of the project, Jewish leaders in L.A. plan to read the names of all 6 million people who perished in the Holocaust.
According to Rabbi David Wolpe, who gives the intro on the project’s Web site, the reason given for reading the names is not to remember that these people died, but that they lived.  We say a person’s name to remember him or her.
Ann Chervin may have survived the Holocaust, but there is no one left to say her name.  She has no grandchildren to fuss over her rose bushes or to keep her mezuzah safe.  She survived, but it’s unlikely she will be remembered.  Maybe that’s why I still feel as though I live in Ann’s house – because it is my duty as a Jew to remember that Ann lived at all.
And so I remember this stranger.  This person whose house I inhabit.  I remember Ann Chervin.
As Yom HaShoah approaches this month, I hope you will, too.

One comment

  1. I grew up in the house across the street from yours, and Ann was my mother’s dearest friend. I think of her every day and believe me, her name is said and she is remembered with a great deal of love – she was my Other Mother and Eve was my younger sister’s childhood best friend. Marion and Ann were both survivors who met in a DP camp after liberation from the camps. Somewhere I have written down which camps Marion was in; I have not been able to discover where Ann was held. I do know that the camp she was in at the end was liberated by the Russians, not Americans – she didn’t talk much about it but she did tell me of her experiences once when I was about 18. Both were married before the War, and both lost their first spouses and most of their families. Ann had two sisters who also survived and emigrated to Israel. Ann’s original name was Rina, and Marion’s was Karian and their last name was Czersinski, changed to Chervin when they entered the US. They married in the DP camp before the emigrated to the U.S. I do not know Ann’s married name before she married Marion and I do not know her maiden name or where she lived in Poland before 1939. Marion was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and was involved in the 1939 Club in West LA and there is a wonderful video of him speaking of his war experience in the UCLA archives and it is posted on-line. I watched it once and haven’t been able to since because I miss him terribly. He had a very bad heart because of what he suffered during the War and died of a massive heart attack far too young. Eve, their daughter and only child, died of breast cancer at the age of 51 and no, did not have any children -she married fairly late. Ann was indeed very tiny – under five feet tall and I’d bet she didn’t weigh more than 90 pounds. She was a seamstress and did a lot of alterations for very wealthy women. When they first came to LA she worked as a milliner in the garment district downtown. Marion worked for S&J Biren Carpet, as did Eve later. I am so happy to know that someone lives in their house who cherishes the memories in that house; I spent a great deal of time there as a child and also as an adult, drinking tea and enjoying all of the wonderful food that Ann stuffed down my throat – she was a serious Jewish mother! She was a bundle of energy and nerves, drank coffee all day and smoked like a chimney, also made the best chicken soup in the world, and love to play cards. Yes, she chopped lots of veggies at that counter, and no she did not try to hide the tattoo on her arm – she felt that it was part of her and her life. I’m glad you kept the roses; my mom helped her plant those since Ann was anything but a gardener. All three of them are buried at Hillside. They were a wonderful family and a huge part of my daily life; Tilden Avenue is a great place to live – for years no one ever left that street – I could go home to visit my mom and the same neighbors were still there; I could walk up the street and find out what all of my childhood friends were doing. It was a warm and nurturing place to grow up.

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