The following story is true, as heard directly from my beloved, young-at-heart grandmother. All names have been changed.

Winter 1945. The Death March. For those who weren’t there, no words can truly describe it, and for those who were there, no words are needed. At the end of the war, when the Germans were losing on all fronts, they refused to give up on their goal of destroying the Jewish people. They forcedFor those who were there, no words are needed inmates out of concentration camps and made them walk hundreds of miles in the bitter cold without sufficient clothing or food, towards areas farther away from the invading armies.

Bubby was there with her two cousins, Chanala and Gittel. They had been suffering under German occupation for 5 years already. They saw their parents killed, and lived a life of fear and hunger, constantly fleeing from one location to another in a desperate search for a safe haven, until they were deported on the infamous cattle-cars. Miraculously, they had survived 11 months in a concentration camp, drawing strength from caring for and connecting with each other. By this time, they were hanging on to life by a thread. Bubby had typhus, and was suffering terribly from the agonies of her illness, combined with hunger, weakness and the freezing temperatures. Gittel was the weakest of the three, and so Bubby and Chanala exerted themselves to support her as she trudged along, step after step, mile after endless mile. Anyone who stopped to rest was shot.

After a while, Gittel collapsed, and there was nothing more they could do for her. With the strength that had carried them thus far, Bubby and Chanala plowed forward. Soon, Bubby felt she could not push herself anymore and told Chanala, “I am going to sit down and rest. I just can’t do this.”

Chanala was in a dilemma. She wanted to save her dear cousin’s life, but she simply didn’t have the strength to carry her. Suddenly, she had an idea: “If you stop, I will stop, too.” Bubby, who had retained her faith and commitment to her Creator through unspeakable suffering, thought to herself, “If this is the end for me, then so be it. But I can’t be the cause of Chanala’s death. I’ll walk a few more steps. If I do collapse, it will be against my will. And if that happens, Chanala probably won’t stop; if she does, I won’t be the cause.” So Bubby pushed herself one more step, one more step, one more; miraculously, they both made it until they were liberated.

Challenges and hardship continued for the broken survivors. The American liberators placed the sick in a hospital in Bialystok to begin the long healing process. Shortly afterwards, the Russians took control of the city. Disregarding the feelings and well-being of individuals, they decided to send those who were still sick to Gorky (currently Nizhny Novgorod), a city 600 miles east of Moscow. Bubby cried and begged to stay with her beloved cousin Chanala, to no avail.

So Bubby was put on a train to Gorky, all alone (yet never truly alone); accompanied and safeguarded by her Father in Heaven, with Whom she was connected by an unbreakable bond of devotion and trust.

In Gorky, Bubby was cared for by a kind Jewish nurse, who bolstered her spirits with encouraging words. A Jewish man brought her a newspaper to read, and to her astonishment, she saw mention of a cousin, Rabbi Efraim Silverman, who was a community leader in Moscow. Upon her discharge from the hospital, Bubby began the long journey out of Communist Russia by way of Moscow.

There, she went to visit her mother’s brother, Uncle Itzik, whose address she remembered from before the war. She knew he came from a wealthy aristocratic family and was saddened to see what he had been reduced to under Communist rule. His clothing screamed poverty, and his one-room dwelling was furnished with a box of potatoes, a box of carrots and a narrow couch.

Bubby then visited her cousin Rabbi Silverman, and he greeted her warmly. Being that he assisted Polish refugees, he had clothing and food to distribute. He gave Bubby a coat, food, 200 rubles and a package of various items she might need.

That night, while staying with the sister of a woman who had traveled with her, Bubby thought of Uncle Itzik, living all alone, and wished she could find him a wife. The hostess suggested a fine woman who, like Uncle Itzik, still retained her Jewish beliefs.

But when Bubby suggested the shidduch to him, he refused to consider it. “What do you think, that I forgot where I come from, and who my parents were? I can’t meet a girl like this, looking like a beggar!” To Bubby’s disappointment, she did not succeed in convincing him.

Bubby then left for Vilna, where she was finally reunited with her cousin Chanala. Bubby shared her efforts to help Uncle Itzik get married, and together they devised a plan. There was a community leader inBubby wished she could find Uncle Itzik a wife Vilna distributing clothing and shoes that had been sent from America for the refugees. Bubby received permission to take shoes and a suit for Uncle Itzik. Unbelievably, she spent her precious 200 rubles, together with 50 donated by Chanala, to purchase a shirt, underwear, socks and a hat for him.

They mailed the package to Uncle Itzik, and with his new dignified appearance, he contacted the woman who had been suggested to him. They were indeed compatible and married shortly afterwards. Though they never had children, Uncle Itzik later said the years of his marriage were the happiest in his life. The difference between a life of loneliness, and a life of love and connection, is eternally to the credit of Bubby’s selfless caring and generosity.

Fast-forward 70 years.

Bubby recently celebrated the birth of her first great-great-grandchild. She is devotedly cared for by the children and grandchildren she nurtured, and is frequently called and visited by all those who she touched. Though limited in physical ability, she retains her inner serenity, content with her life’s achievements. She also accepts that at the designated time, she will leave for the World of Truth to greet her Maker, and be reunited with the family and friends who were taken at the prime of their lives so many years ago.