The Funeral

The Funeral

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Funeral

I don’t think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that still remains.

Anne Frank

The dirt was wet because it had been raining the morning of the funeral. The mourners wore boots and picked their way carefully from their cars across the carpet that was laid out alongside the newly-dug grave. It wasn’t a sad funeral. Isaac Ross was very old, in his nineties certainly. And he had been in excellent health until the morning of his death. His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have wonderful memories of a vibrant, kind, loving man who enjoyed his life, his friends, family and work. No one could ask more of life than that. No, it wasn’t a sad funeral.

I was there because Isaac Ross was the candy man. He was the man who sat in the front row at synagogue and dispensed pieces of candy to children who approached him during appropriate times in the service. The whole congregation knew him. For many parents who had to entice their youngsters to sit still during davening, or praying, Isaac Ross provided a valuable service. He was fond of telling parents that children should be rewarded with sweets for attention to Torah. He said that the words would therefore always be associated with sweetness and so be attractive to the young.

I looked around at the sea of faces who had come to say good-bye to the candy man. The family was very large and covered all ages. Mr. Ross had had many children, and each of them had had many children. All of them had come to say good-bye. One man, seated in the first row closest to the coffin, looked to be in his mid-sixties. His hair was completely white, but his face was marvelously unlined. He stepped forward to speak, first looking up at the gray sky. I thought he was deciding how long he had before the deluge began.

Instead of the typical eulogy, he told us this story.

“If Isaac Ross had been only a loving husband to my mother and a kind-hearted father to me, it would have been more than we could have asked for. But he was more, much more. He was our savior.

“In 1944, in Auschwitz, a young Polish Jew, Esther Lewandowski, was brutally raped by a Nazi officer. She was thirteen years old. What was unusual about this act was that the officer allowed her to live. Indeed, he forced her to come to him several times during the time he was stationed at the camp. When he left suddenly after a few months, he had no idea that the young Jewess whose life he neglected to take would have a reminder of his coldhearted use of her other than painful memories. The reminder was an infant son.

“Esther’s childish figure and the starvation rations in the camp enabled her to hide her pregnancy. Indeed, it was common for women to stop menstruating in those conditions, so it was possible that Esther did not even know for sure she was pregnant. Of course, if it had become known, she would have been put to death immediately.

“That was in January of 1945. Sometime in March, as the Germans became more and more aware that they were losing the war, Esther was part of a unit of women who were taken to work in a factory near Parsnitz. The truck in which they were riding stopped suddenly when the air raid siren sounded. All the guards ran off and the women escaped. They hid in the countryside on an abandoned farm until they were liberated by the Russians in May. The older women helped Esther through her pregnancy, and they all were sent to a refugee camp together. There Esther’s baby was born in September. Esther Lewandow-ski was fourteen years old.

“Isaac Ross had also survived the war, after spending time in a camp. At the time of the liberation, he was twenty-five. He had lost a wife and a daughter as well as his parents and two brothers. After the liberation, Isaac arrived in the same refugee camp as Esther. They fell in love and Isaac became a husband and father once more. What the Nazis had taken from him, he now reclaimed for his own—a family.

“I am Esther’s son by the Nazi officer. But Isaac Ross was my father in every sense that matters. He loved me, nurtured me, and gave me an identity I could cherish. More important, he loved my mother with all his heart.

“Esther never had any other children. Perhaps to Isaac, she was only a child herself. She died in his arms when I was twelve. My father and I leaned on each other in our grief. I knew that my father’s heart was too big not to find others to love, so when he met Anna four years later, I was glad to see him fulfilled and happy. And at seventeen, I became big brother to the beginning of Isaac’s third family.

“Today, as I stand before you all, our numbers have grown. Isaac had eight children. His grandchildren number thirty. And it remains to be seen how many great-grandchildren will come from Isaac Ross’s line.

“But one thing I do know: I am living proof of one man’s triumph over the most heinous evil that ever walked the earth.

“Good-bye, Isaac, my father. We will be your legacy.” The rain began falling just as Isaac’s son finished speaking. It fell softly at first. The mourners filed by after the coffin was lowered into the grave. They each dropped fistfuls of dirt on the coffin.

One little girl, about five, was among the last of the family to approach the grave. She approached Isaac’s son, took his hand and said, “Help me, Grandpa.” She picked up a fistful of dirt and turned toward the open grave. I noticed how the brightness of her yellow curls contrasted sharply with the olive green of her coat and hat. She was really quite beautiful and in another setting, I probably would have smiled at her. She stopped at the side of the grave and looked up at the gray sky, as her grandfather— Isaac’s son—had done. For just a moment, the raindrops mixed with the teardrops on her face, and I suppose on mine too, as I watched, transfixed. This beautiful little blond-haired, blue-eyed, Aryan-looking child appeared for all the world like a sunflower upturned to catch the rain.

And then it struck me: From one seed of evil, a family— beautiful, loving, thriving and Jewish—was growing. This little girl and the rest of Isaac Ross’s family represented the ultimate vindication—the promise for the future.

No, it wasn’t a sad funeral at all.

Marsha Arons

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