Today I spoke with a young romni (Romani woman) about finding my gr-gr-gr-grgrandmother’s name on a list of slaves on a Barbados plantation, and also about our attempts every year to persuade the UN’s office of Holocaust Outreach to include us in their annual remembrance ceremony. We both cried a bit.
Tonight I read the poem by Rachel Hadas, “Pomegranate Variations,” with these lines:
The fruit we pass around is recollection
. . . .
Mortality’s pink slip,
ticket to a certain season . . .
In my novel, Eve’s Garden, Eve’s grandmother, Evangeline, explains to her children how her Romani ancestors came through such oppression as being driven out of their homes by arson, were denied housing and safe passage, and were ultimately sold into slavery. She plants for the children cuttings from the pomegranate trees grown by her own grandmother, trees from which she harvested the fruits, processing the seeds and pulp into extracts to help her neighbors, in that time before pharmaceuticals, to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Those same neighbors turned against her, the same lack of charity experienced again and again, experienced even today, by Romani families in France, in Italy, in Hungary, and more places, but especially in parts of Eastern Europe.
Today, as we observe the anniversary of the night when the remaining Romani women, men, and children were murdered in Auschwitz, I think of my ancestors, what they have endured and overcome to bring us here. And what yours must have done to bring us alive, together, to this moment.
Mortality comes for us all. Compassion takes but a moment, but may be remembered for a lifetime, and celebrated for many lifetimes. May we live so that they survive forever.