Chapter 4: I Don’t Remember
By Nancy Szabo, daughter of Daniel Szabo
Are our parents responsible for sharing with us the pain of their youth? The struggles of their young adulthood? The landmines in their marriage? How much of their legacy is what’s told? How much is withheld? We sometimes judge them harshly because they’ve kept secrets from us. We’ve been angry at feeling left out of the “truth.” We’ve had to accept that much of what our parents went through will remain a mystery to us.
I know I never got the full story from my father of what happened to him during the Holocaust, but I tell myself, he gave me morsels, tastes of his pain. “What was it like to be in hiding? What did you do there? How did you get through this time?” I asked. His usual response to such questions was “I don’t remember.” So much I ached to know, but most of it my father seemed to have blocked out. As young adults, my brother and I were able, with some prodding, to get a few disconnected memories out of him about his childhood. We learned that his father walked him to school every morning, that his parents forced him to eat everything on his plate for dinner or else he would have to eat it for breakfast, and that he spent summer vacations at his Aunt Margaret’s home in the countryside. But about the dark periods when he was hiding, and later when his family escaped Hungary, we got very little. I had the distinct sense that he was consciously keeping some things private—whether to protect himself or us, I’ll never know.
Mainly, my father spoke of his mother’s bravery and grit. He’d shake his head in amazement at her strength, but never acknowledged his own. Though I was incredibly curious about my father’s wartime experiences, I treaded lightly. I knew my father must have harbored terrible memories and probably wanted to shield me from them, to keep them as his burden alone. I went along with this because I could see his pain. I thought by talking about it he would be hurt more. I didn’t want to make my father sad, sadder than he already was.
ADDITIONAL FAMILY RESOURCES
[by Nancy’s brother] Szabo, Peter. Finding Maria: A Young Man's Search for His Grandmother, and Himself. New York: Chickadee Prince Books, 2016.