A story for my mother
David Lee Preston | Inquirer Sunday Magazine | May 1995
ONE RADIANT SUMMER OF MY childhood, on the sands of a Delaware beach, my mother extracted a promise:
Someday you will write my story, won’t you?
Why did she place this obligation on the shoulders of her 10-year-old son? After all, she had mastered English, although it was not her native tongue; her writing was fluid, and she spoke eloquently about her life’s experiences.
And why did we always vacation at the beach? My mother didn’t care for the beach, but longed for the mountains. We went to the mountains just once.
My mother died in December 1982 – and only after that did I begin to look at her life, trying to find her in her letters and papers, looking for her voice, her laugh, her touch, who she had been, what had enabled her to survive after she lost her parents.
During the Nazi occupation of Poland, my mother, barely in her 20s, had hidden in a sewer for 14 months. That, of course, was the essence of my mother’s extraordinary story.
But at my mother’s core – before her parents sent her away so she might survive; before three Poles risked their lives to hide her; before she married an engineer whose numbered arm bespoke his own suffering at Auschwitz- Birkenau; before she taught two generations of Jews in my hometown of Wilmington and became a noted speaker on the horror that befell the Jews of Europe – in the far reaches where old memories would startle her awake from deepest sleep, in Halina Wind Preston’s soul was the Carpathian Mountains town of Turka.
Writer bio: David Lee Preston is an assistant city editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. Preston, who wrote for the Inquirer for 17 years, is a native of Wilmington, Delaware. This is the third article in a trilogy that documented his parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1986 for the second installment, about a trip with his father to the places of his father’s past.
Part I: A Bird in the Wind
Part II: Journey to My Father’s Holocaust