Sunday, February 26, 2006

I'll never forget that day (as told by Gertie)

Photo shows: Gertie Denenberg

It was early in April 1945. Our enemies had been defeated. Thank God the War was drawing to a close.
During those momentous years my large close family of siblings had been scattered, each of them living out their own wartime drama.
All five brothers, and five brothers-in-law, including my husband, had fought in the Forces overseas, and all had mercifully come through, although not entirely unscathed.
On that day I’ll never forget, I travelled up to London by train to meet my father for lunch, something we tried to do now and again, however difficult it was in those uncertain times. I noticed at once that he looked pale and ill, not at all his robust self.

To my horror he began to shake; his whole body shook, his face, his hands trembled.
Tears streamed down his cheeks as he told me in a broken voice that my beloved older brother Jack, 33 year old Sgt. Air Gunner had been shot down three weeks earlier in what proved to be the last raid of the War over Germany, and posted as “Missing, believed killed”. I asked shakily: “Mum, does she know?” And my poor father faltered, a broken man, “I can’t tell her – I think she guesses, but I can’t bring myself to tell her”.
I had no words with which to comfort him, and I had to return home to my little girl, my mind in turmoil.
Dazed with shock, I was torn with pity for Jack’s young wife. Left with two children, a girl of ten and a boy of five. I found myself wandering the streets near Liverpool Street Station, reliving in my thoughts all the pain and hardship of my own wartime experiences. The bombing, the recent tragic loss of my baby son, my husband’s wounding in Normandy, and now, at this eleventh hour, when we thought all our dear ones had survived, to be dealt this terrible blow!
We had all felt, as a family that our partings and privations had been for a worthwhile cause – now I asked myself, had it all been for nothing?
And then, at that moment, like a miracle, I saw him, my brother Jack, across the street. How wonderful, it had all been some terrible mistake – he was alive – I was so happy as I raced across the road to tug at the sleeve of the slim young man in air-force blue. I looked up into his face, laughing in my joy – and it wasn’t him – it wasn’t his face!
Embarrassed, heartbroken, confused, I stammered out my excuses. I was to suffer these fantasies for a long time, seeing my brother in every young man in uniform, having to stop myself running up to them.
Until the Red Cross located his grave, and we knew for sure that he was dead, shot at while parachuting down from his burning plane.
Jack lies buried in a War Cemetery near Durnbach, where after the War our family members said 'Kadish', the memorial prayer, over his grave, with its Shield of David on the headstone.

I end this story on a happier note.

Last month in the 1997 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Jack’s son, that fatherless little boy, Dr Michael Goldstein, now risen to the high rank in life of Vice Chancellor of Coventry University, was awarded the C.B.E. for his services to the Higher Education. Michael is a great, yet modest man, His sister Leila is a dedicated social worker who cares lovingly for her now ailing mother.
Jack – your sacrifice was not in vain. You did not grow old as we who are left grow old, but your noble spirit lives on in the lives of your children.
This is my tribute to your memory.

Gertie Denenberg

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