Chapter 7: Memorize This Address
By Ava Adler, daughter of Minna (Mindl) Adler
As a child growing up in Oak Park, Michigan, I don’t recall thinking a lot about how my family was different from other families. I knew my mom had an accent, but I don’t remember feeling self-conscious about it. I was the eldest of three sisters and was a very good girl. I was happy, did well in school, and had a lot of friends. We sat alphabetically, and my name, Ava Dee Adler, usually placed me in the front row. When the teacher asked for a volunteer for anything, I felt compelled to raise my hand, whether I really wanted to or not. Did this sense that I had to be good, responsible, perfect come from my family’s Holocaust legacy? I’m not sure.
Our house was always spotless, and house chores and meals were on a strict schedule. My dad worked several jobs to support the family and was not home much. My parents were distant cousins with the same last name of Adler, but my dad’s parents had emigrated from Poland before the war and he was the youngest of five children, born in the Bronx, New York. He was fun and outgoing, with a passion for the arts, and had imagined a showbusiness career as a tap-dancing tenor before his life took another turn and he became a high school teacher, then a college professor and speech pathologist. He taught my sisters and me to sing in four-part harmony and gave me tap dance lessons in the basement. My mom, on the other hand, was quiet and shy. She did not have close women friends. She spent all her time keeping our house meticulously neat and clean, cooking, and doing laundry. We got along well, but I have no memories of her playing with me and my sisters. Perhaps we kids felt the undercurrent of our mother’s anxiety that became more prominent as the years passed. We always felt more safe and secure when my dad was home.
In September of 1939, the German army stormed into the village of Pantalowice, Poland, my mother Minna (Mindl) Adler’s birthplace. My mother’s family was one of only ten Jewish families in their town. They owned a large, thriving farm where she lived with her grandfather, Moishe Adler; her parents, Chava and Meijer Adler; her sisters, Pesia and Dvora; and her brothers, Hersch and Aba. My grandfather died of a heart attack before the war. People said that it was a blessing because he never knew the horrors that were to come.