• My grandparents hid in an underground cellar for two years before someone informed on them, when they were imprisoned in Lodz Ghetto. (E+)Source: E+
Before the war my great-grandmother had the foresight to convert much of the family assets into diamonds and had them secretly drilled into her teeth.
By
Noa Abrahams

20 May 2020 - 11:15 AM  UPDATED 20 May 2020 - 11:45 AM

Growing up I was always struck by two things: that my grandmother had survived the Holocaust and yet died in the grip of cancer before I was born; and that I was always worried about my grandpa, even though he has been and continues to be in very good health.

Before the war my great-grandmother had the foresight to convert much of the family assets into diamonds and had them secretly drilled into her teeth. She progressively had them removed to bribe and buy a way out of the Soviet Union.

For the first five years of her life, my grandmother’s family lived under false papers in Nazi-controlled Poland. They hid in an underground cellar for two years before someone informed on them, when they were imprisoned in Lodz ghetto. It became apparent that the Russian front was approaching and that the Nazis were emptying the ghetto and sending remaining occupants to death camps. The family escaped from the ghetto and hid once again, in the ‘Lodz catacombs’, until Russia took control. But the family continued to experience anti-Semitism and were unsafe in their home.

For the first five years of her life, my Grandmother’s family lived under false papers in Nazi controlled Poland.

They escaped first to England and then travelled as far from Europe as possible, to Australia. The last of the money was used to buy and ship machinery for manufacturing hosiery with which they established a soon-to-be successful business. M.M. Cooper Hosiery Mills, with the slogan ‘one size fits all!’ supplied the Australian team with socks for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

My grandmother grew up with a passion for art and went on to direct a successful gallery and became instrumental in allowing many unknown artists to develop their craft and have a broader reach. I did not get to meet her, something I cried about a lot when I was younger.

As a young Australian person with the privilege of a good education, safety in my own home and little experience in what it means to be personally persecuted and discriminated against, I have always hoped to continue my grandmother’s legacy in pursuing the arts, and helping others feel empowered to pursue their dreams in a tangible way.

My grandpa sees so much beauty in the world and feels very lucky to have watched my brother and I grow up.

My grandpa sees so much beauty in the world and feels very lucky to have watched my brother and I grow up. His family left Poland before the war, in 1932, hoping to remain out of reach of the rising Nazi power. They remained in Brussels until 1940, when the mounting fear pushed them through France. The Nazis travelled through France three days behind them. My grandpa made it to Portugal and spent his 14th birthday in jail and seven tumultuous months later, arrived in Australia.

He was 16 and spoke three languages, but not a word of English. Two years later he duxed his year and then became a general surgeon, practicing for more than 60 years and saving many people's lives. I have always hoped to continue my grandpa’s legacy by actively learning as much as I can about the world, and sharing my knowledge in a patient and engaging way.

I keep these stories alive by telling them, thinking about them, and actively considering my place in this world as a cultural Jewish person, placed here in Australia, specifically because of that part of my identity.

I keep these stories alive by telling them, thinking about them, and actively considering my place in this world as a cultural Jewish person, placed here in Australia, specifically because of that part of my identity.

If my family were refugees today, perhaps our future would have been less positive. It’s scary to think about the fragility of humanity, with the weight of history as real as the numbers tattooed onto the arms of many grandparents in my community. Yet I feel a duty to remain hopeful and learn from the past, to envision a world with less hate, and more acceptance and love.

As we hurtle through a new decade in which many first-person stories will be lost, and a new generation may not feel the looming generational trauma quite so keenly, I hope that stories such as mine continue to live through conversations between young and old. It’s easy to feel stuck in a dark world, and if one lingers on these stories, they make light seem very far away. But the legacy of my grandparents and their families’ bravery, initiative and great good fortune will guide me as I work to do my part in making the world a better place, for all.

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