This past week I had the unbelievable pleasure of spending two days with my dad at the Teen Symposium on Holocaust Education in Scranton. Over 1500 students attended the event. They heard from both liberators and survivors and learned about this horrific time.
The first morning we were eating breakfast and my dad got his favorite - sunny side up eggs. He always eats them the same, he eats all the egg white first, leaving a perfect circle of the yolk, and then eats the yolk all at once. It is so cute watching him eat his eggs!
So there we are, sitting in the booth at 6:30am eating breakfast, and he giggles at me as he eats his eggs, saying "This totally reminds me of the time I stole that egg." So I give him puzzled look and say, "You mean when you got the boiled egg on the side of the street, right?' (for those that have read the book you may remember this scene). He looks at me and immediately corrects me "No! When I stole the egg?" So now I am completely confused. I thought I knew all the stories there are to know, but clearly my dad has just had a recollection of something that he has never shared. I insist that I have never heard this story and implore him to expand and share more.
"One day we were hiding in the attic of a barn" he begins. I lean in, so excited to be hearing something new. "I was just SO hungry. It was nighttime, Zosia and Baba (that is Mamusia to those that read the book - my grandma) were sleeping. I quietly crept down the ladder to the barn and started to look around for something to eat. I quickly noticed an egg on the ground near the chickens. I didn't think, I didn't hesitate, my hunger was guiding me to that egg. I quickly picked it up, made a hole in one end and drank the delicious liquid inside. After indulging, I ground up the shell and hid it in the dirt. I then quietly snuck back up the ladder and went to sleep. The next morning, the owner of the farm came into the barn. We heard him walking below us and getting very frustrated. He started to curse and get angrier and angrier each minute. Finally, we heard him coming up the ladder. He looked at my Mamusia and said ' You stole the egg!' Of course she had no idea what he was talking about. ' What egg?' she replied. 'I would never steal from you! I would ask you before taking anything. I swear I did not take anything!'"
At this point I interrupt my dad and ask "Oh my G-D! Were you scared they would figure it out? What did you do?"
A sneaky smile forms on his face as he recalls what happened next.
He continued, "Well, my mom looked at me from the corner of her eye. I was sitting VERY quietly in the corner, and with one look she knew. Once the owner left, she immediately turned to me and said 'Manek- did you take the egg?' . 'No!' I replied, 'She continued to look at me and very sternly once again said ' Manek! did you take the egg, tell me the truth' I caved. 'Mamusia, I was so very hungry, I am so sorry!' She started to yell at me! 'Manek - do you know what you have done? We could get kicked out of here! They are helping us and you steal from them?' I just started to cry and apologize.
Soon after the owner returned, and my mother went down the ladder and asked to speak to him. She confessed my sins, told the owner that she figured out it was her son that took the egg. 'I am so, so very sorry. I understand if you would like us to leave. He was just a hungry child. I have no way of repaying you. We are so very sorry.'' Well that owner was kind. He understood and forgave my father.
What amazes me the most of this story is the character of my grandmother. Even in this horrible situation, she kept her integrity. She didn't have to tell the owner the truth. He would never have figured it out. But even when all humanity was being stripped from them, she held onto who she was. She taught my father to be honest, to own up to your mistakes.
To all the mom's out there - the way your children perceive you and your action shape the type of people they become. I have always known what a good man my father is, he taught my sister and I the importance of family, the importance of truth and the fact that all we have is our word and reputation. I now know he learned this lesson at a very young age.