My mother is having nightmares.
Since the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel, 88-year-old Cornelia “Connie” Kapp-Frydman has been unconsciously—and consciously—reliving the real-life atrocities of World War II during her horrifying childhood in Yugoslavia eighty years ago.
My grandfather, Ivan Kapp, was a Yugoslav Partisan, a band of communist, anti-fascist resistance fighters led by Josip Broz Tito. He was killed by the Nazis during a 1941 Partisan uprising in Sarajevo, when my mother was only six years old. Her mother, aunts, cousins and she fled on foot to Italy through Petrova Gora, a hill range in the Kordun region of central Croatia, one step ahead of the Nazi soldiers and their German shepherds. My mother describes hiding under piles of leaves and contracting ringworm.
Somehow they made it to Italy, first to Bari and then passage from Naples to Ellis Island. As the ship sailed past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, a seasick passenger threw up in my mother’s face. Welcome to America.
They settled in Elmhurst, Queens, where I was raised until seven in a “vertical shtetl” apartment building owned by my great-aunt’s husband and occupied by my mother’s surviving Yugoslavian relatives. Those were the seminal years of my life.
If my father, Sigmund Frydman, was still alive, he’d also be having nightmares of his traumatic childhood in Nazi Germany. Luckily for him and his three siblings, their parents miraculously managed to book them all on one of the last Kindertransport trains from Germany to England in June 1939. His parents escaped to Belgium but were captured three years later and murdered in Auschwitz. My father was orphaned at 13.
Sigmund, Heinz and Leo Frydman lived in British youth hostels until their teens when they set sail from England for Washington Heights. Their sister, Mia, was living in a Zionist hostel in England when she decided to make Aliyah, the Hebrew word for ascent or rise, and emigrated to Israel in 1948, the year the Jewish State was born.
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, partitioning the British-controlled Palestine into two independent states, one Arab and the other Jewish, with Jerusalem placed under a special international regime.
My uncle Leo, now 91, spoke after the Hamas assaults to his 92 year old sister, Mia Frydman-Heisler. She, her children and grandchildren are all OK in Jerusalem. “But Israel will never be the same,” lamented Mia.
In spite of, or maybe because of, what’s happening in Israel, many of my liberal, Upper West Side, Jewish neighbors more-strongly favor a two-state solution and are nervous about Jews who carry guns to protect themselves and their homeland.
I’m not one of those Jews.
My mother and aunt are tough women who’ve survived the worst of humanity. Thanks to them, I’ve never been more proud of Israel and being Jewish.