Rachel Rózsa, my grandmother, was deported to Auschwitz together with her family in 1944, where she perished. Her last words to her children were: “I have lived. Just that you should live.”
Rozsa’s four children survived.
I have composed a work based on her last words, which were related to me by my aunt, Miriam, who lived in Israel (after WWII). It can be heard below, performed by amazing mezzo soprano Sarah Castle, fabulous musicians, and conducted by the absolutely perfect conductor (Karin Hendrickson) for this piece, and another, The Angel of Chomutov, recorded on the same day.
My grandmother was Hungarian- and Yiddish- speaking – she came from Nagy Szőlős in Hungary. So she would have related these words to her daughter in Hungarian, who related them to me in an English which she learned entirely from watching films. Speaking not even a word of Hungarian, I got a couple of Hungarian translators and a Hungarian friend on the case. There was an issue that the words I provided were embedded in a construction that is obviously not idiomatic to the Hungarian language (or English language, in fact), and they understood the intention of these words to mean that Rozsa was saying that the sole purpose of her life up to that point, had been so that her children should live/survive. I explained that the way I understood these words, was that Rozsa had had a chance to live, so all she now wished for was that her children should survive. (My aunt told me that her mother said she didn’t mind dying as she was tired – she had had a hard life. She would have been in her early 40s, and undoubtedly what made her tired was being wrenched from her home – being forced into the ghetto and then onto a train to Auschwitz; the inhumane conditions of the journey there; and everything she found and experienced there upon arrival.) More recently, it suddenly dawned on me that my aunt had related her mother’s words to me using a Hebrew construction. “Just (may it be) that you should survive” – with the connotation that that is all she now wishes for. So the Hungarian words I chose: “Csak ti éljetek” (which are not exactly what was offered by the translators) – may be “poetic” (as one translator conceded) rather than idiomatic.
To Rozsa’s words: “I have lived. Just that you should live”, I added the following:
I have lived
In an earlier blog post, I show photos of her hometown – places where she would have walked, buildings, the Carpathian scenery, she would have seen as she grew up there, until she went to Mukačevo in (then) Czechoslovakia for an arranged marriage and a married life ahead of her with a man whom she had only met once before.