These days when I arrive in New York, I don’t feel like a visitor any more. It has become my second home. Everything is familiar: Central Park, Columbus Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue and of course Broadway. I walk for hours and hours and I drink it all in, the atmosphere, the people, even the smells. On weekends, going with the family to Little League games in Riverside Park, looking across the Hudson to New Jersey, feeling the excitement of my grandson Guy, watching the proud parents watching their children, all that makes me feel a part of this beautiful city. Of course being with the family is the best thing of all, and seeing my friends again is great. It is amazing how many people I have met during my various visits to New York. Wherever I go, I find the people very friendly, in contrast to what most people think of the city.

I remember that when I arrived in New York for the first time and was met by my daughter Yael and her husband Ken I felt immediately at home, as if I had been there before. This is not surprising – I had seen so many movies and heard so much about it that everything felt familiar. That didn’t change the fact that I was afraid to leave the apartment, and for good reason. My good friend Ricky, a born New Yorker, had warned me of so many disasters that could befall me if I wasn’t careful. She told me I must never talk to strangers, carry my handbag in a certain way, not stop and gawk at places of interest, and in general not behave like a tourist. Yael just laughed it off and the next day gave me a map and a bunch of keys and shoved me out the door. So I began walking, first around the East Village where the children lived at the time, and later, when they moved to the Upper West side, I became acquainted with a different part of Manhattan.

I have wonderful memories of all my visits to New York, but some moments were magical. Once, when Guy was a baby, we went on the ferry to Staten Island. Afterward we sat in a cafe by the river. Yael was nursing Guy and we ate apple strudel while watching the sunset. There was something so special about those few hours. We felt such happiness, that even today when I think about it I smile. Another memorable time was Labor Day some years ago. I had to leave the next day and was feeling sad. Yael, little Guy and I were walking on Fifth Avenue and it was completely empty of people and traffic. It was early in the morning, the shops were closed, and we felt as if the whole avenue belonged to us. It was a rare experience and I’ll never forget it.

I have so many beautiful memories of my various visits to New York, but my first was probably the one that left the deepest impression. I had come to celebrate Yael and Ken’s wedding. They both looked so beautiful and elegant, I couldn’t take my eyes off them when they stood before the Rabbi in the Synagogue. The reception was held in the Gramercy Art Club, a lovely old building, and although most of the guests were strangers to me, Ken’s parents and family made me more then welcome. Sheilah and Sol have always been very kind to me and we have spent many pleasant hours together. I have stayed with them in their home and they took me sightseeing to museums, shows and restaurants, even when it wasn’t always easy for them.

And then Guy came into the world. I arrived two weeks after his birth and I didn’t want to let go of him. Ken must have really resented me for monopolizing his son, but he was too much of a gentleman to show it. This time I was really heartbroken when I had to leave. I find it very difficult to have children and grandchildren living so far away. It was entirely different with my granddaughter Tamar. It gave me such joy watching her grow up. I looked after her many times when she was small. She had her own little bed in our house. It was a folding cot and she loved it so much she wouldn’t give it up until she was five. Good thing the sides were made of netting and stretched! We always had a lot of fun together, but I had trouble getting her to bed in the evening, so I made an agreement with her - I would put an alarm clock on the table, setting it for a certain time, and when it rang she was to leave whatever we were doing and go to bed. It worked only too well. When the alarm went off, she jumped up and raced to bed. I felt I had overdone it; I didn’t want to make a robot out of her, but she loved it. It was like a game for her and it gave her extra time to play. Now Tamar is grown up and I don’t see her as much, but at least I had a big part in her childhood and I feel very close to her. Over the years I managed to spend quite a lot of time with Guy as well, in New York and here in Israel, and for that I am really grateful. Grandchildren are wonderful! I only wish I could better understand baseball, Guy’s great passion.

My last visit to New York was really great. Ricky took me to her Cousin Steve’s apartment on the Upper East Side. Both Steve and his wife Nina are artists and their place is filled with their work. Steve had read my story and encouraged me to continue writing, but I don’t find it easy. It is very exciting for me when people read my story and tell me what they think of it. I am amazed how I managed to write it. Anyway, I promised Steve that I would try to write more. He said I should write whatever comes into my mind, and even if I can’t think of anything, to sit in front of the computer. So this is what I am doing now, staring at the screen and waiting for inspiration. It would be nice if I could write fiction, but I can’t make up stories, except silly nonsense stories for Guy who loves them and can’t get enough of them. My life, after many turbulent years, is now quite uneventful and ordinary, and I am happy about that. I had enough excitement to last me a few lifetimes.

Writing about my past was very therapeutic for me, and when I took all my children on a journey into my past, it completed the cycle. I had always wanted to go on that journey, but I never thought it would happen. At first I had planned to take them all together, but when that proved impractical, I decided to go with each one individually. The first to go with me was Irit, then Yael, and Gil came last. It was a rewarding experience, very difficult at times, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Each of my children reacted differently, which was to be expected, but all of them were protective of me and full of love and understanding. First we went to Vienna and I showed them all the places where I spent my childhood, where I lived, the school I went to, the park I played in and the Prater – the big amusement park where my grandfather used to take me and my little sister on Sundays. During the whole time I was in Vienna I felt torn between the memories of a happy childhood that came flooding back and the terrible events that followed. In the end, we were all glad when we left Vienna.

One place everybody loved was Znaim, the town where my mother was born and where her family lived. And all my children loved my cousin Kitty, who spent the rest of our journeys with us. I grew up with Kitty, since we spent all our summer holidays in Znaim. We used to be a foursome, with Kitty’s twin brother Kurt and my sister Evy, who died in the camps. Now the three of us are the only survivors of our whole family. My children and I stayed with Kitty in Brno. We then went to Prague to meet Kurt and together we set out on the most difficult part of our journey - Ghetto Theresienstadt. I wish I could describe the feelings that washed over me, seeing an empty town where every space used to be filled with people. When I closed my eyes I heard only silence instead of voices. As I walked with my children I thought of all the dead people who had walked here, amongst them my whole family. When we left this ghost town I was filled with such gratitude that I survived and brought a family into the world, and that I have children who are loving and sensitive, and are prepared to share my past with me. I know it is a burden to be a child of a Holocaust survivor, but this I cannot change. I could have concealed my sad story from them, but I think I did the right thing by telling them, it brought us closer together. Our travels were not all sad and gloomy; we had a lot of fun too. Both Yael and Irit kept a diary and managed to poke gentle fun at me. It is a good thing we all have a sense of humor, it makes life easier.

Writing my story and taking my children to Europe has had a profound effect on me. I feel as if an enormous burden has been lifted off me and that I have fulfilled a mission and that now I can enjoy what’s left of my life. Vienna remains an unresolved issue for me. Before I went there for the first time, many years after having been forced to leave, I never had the desire to see Vienna again. Now that I have been there a few times I have this strange yearning for the beautiful city of my childhood, but at the same time I hate this place for the terrible things that happened to us there. I cannot look the old people in their faces without wondering what part they played in our misery. I don’t know if I’ll ever go there again.

Lucy Mandelstam

July 2000