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Much to my surprise, almost two years after placing a request with the United States Holocaust Historical Museum’s Missing Person’s Tracing Service, I received two e-mails containing a total of 45 attachments pertaining to my grand-uncle, Abraham Einhorn—whose letter to my grandmother in 1937 was the impetus for Letter from Poland. The attachments primarily consisted of lists of the names, year and place of birth of concentration camp inmates.
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Although I already knew that he was a survivor of Dachau concentration camp (near Munich, Germany), the documentation shows that he was caught by the Gestapo in Lithuania in 1941, four years after he wrote the letter to my grandmother and four years before Dachau was liberated in 1945. Perhaps he had heard of the remarkable Japanese consulate who was stamping exit visas for Jews day and night. Instead, Abraham Einhorn was the survivor of not one, but three concentration camps.

Some weeks after receiving this documentation, yet before it won an Oscar, I went to see Ida, a film I had read about and had been curious to view. While the cinematography and the use of music were quite beautiful, I was not convinced by the narrative. And while the acting was good, I was not entirely convinced by the characters and their choices.
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How does a Catholic priest say to Ida that the Jews kept to themselves during the war when over three million Jews died in Poland during the Holocaust, and many of the concentration camps were located in Poland? Why doesn’t the film, or Ida, question the priest’s statement?

In 1937, two years before Germany invaded Poland, my grand-uncle wrote: “Here in Poland the anti-Semitism is growing worse every day. No one wants to travel with Jews nor buy from them nor sell to them. What the future will bring, I don’t know. How are we supposed to manage? ”

Is ignorance really bliss?

Part 2: Water, Wood and Earth

In February, mysterious water leaks had developed in my downstairs neighbor’s bathroom. On four consecutive days, four different workers came to locate the source of the leaks and were unsuccessful in doing so. While there were several different theories, nothing was visible to the eye, so it was decided to dig up my bathroom floor. Thus, all the contents of my bathroom needed to be transferred to my main room along with the items from my kitchen.

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The first day of repairs started with most of my apartment being covered in plastic like a Christo installation and my toilet sitting in the bathtub. Next came major excavation by the plaster/painting contractor’s workers, which involved digging below the level of the pipes, perhaps 6-8 inches. Underneath the tiles was not only dirt, but actual soil! And wood. (It is an old building.) Four heavy bags of debris were carried out by strong, young workers staggering under their weight, and leaks in three separate pipes, were discovered. The plumber came to look late in the afternoon and said to be ready for them the next morning at 9 am.

The plumber’s mechanic and an assistant arrived at 9:30 am and began to unpack and set up materials in the hallway. At 10:30 am the plumber came to tell them what needed to be done. He left and they began cutting away the old pipes. The heat for the entire building needed to be turned off while they worked. Ditto the water in my apartment. As my repeated attempts to warn against the possibility of the pipes freezing had been ignored, I was grateful that it was the one day during a week of arctic-like weather when the temperatures rose above 30 degrees.

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It took them forever. There was constant foot traffic and disagreement amongst the four plumbers, the building handyman and the contractor. Finally, at 7 pm they were able to turn the heat on and test the new piping. At 7:30 pm, after cursory cleaning and removal of the ‘body bag’ (leaving the toilet in the tub and dark grey fingerprints on the wall) they left. The third day, the contractor’s workers returned, concrete was mixed and poured—and needed twelve hours to dry. The fourth day, with tiling and grouting materials, a new floor was put down. And I spent the following four days cleaning.

Part 1: Air and Fire

With the recent arrest of DOB inspectors leaving DOB even more understaffed than usual, it took until February 27th for DOB to send inspectors who, I am told, looked at the plumber’s gas re-piping paperwork and then chose just a few actual apartments to actually inspect. We were told that the next step is for Con Ed Gas Service Turn-on to send their inspectors. Instead, a field inspector who is not authorized to turn on gas came to the building on March 6th. So, until such date as an inspector from Gas Service Turn-on appears, much of the contents of my kitchen still sit in the main room of my apartment.

A few weeks ago, a tenant smelled gas and the respondents from the Fire Department/Con Ed found three leaks where the plumbers had not attached the pipes tightly enough (and the Con Ed Gas Service Turn-on Group inspectors had not inspected carefully enough) after months and months of supposedly “professional” work.

Explosion_04Mar15Then this past week an electrical transformer in front of my building exploded and caught fire late in the afternoon, interrupting subway service and requiring the entrance to the building to be blocked for several hours; there also had been concern that the building might lose power, which—thankfully—did not happen.

Next post Part 2: Water, Wood and Earth.