The story of this suitcase, passed down through generations, holds within it the documents of my family’s journey. Their home in Vienna had already fallen to the Nazis, and my great-grandfather’s release papers from Dachau came through in the early days when it was still a labor camp. From there, they fled across continents to Shanghai, China, and ultimately to Palestine. During eleven years in the Shanghai Ghetto, my mother was born. Stateless refugees, they held no citizenship anywhere, with only temporary, precarious permission to reside anywhere in the world that would take them.
In Shanghai, they were cut off from the world, with no news of what was happening in Europe nor about their family’s fate. They lived within and surrounded by an unfamiliar culture, hanging on to their identity and creating a community of outcast survivors. With the war’s end and the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, they were again forced to pack their meager belongings, and search anew for a home. With nowhere else to go, they headed for Palestine, which, by the time they arrived, had become the State of Israel only months before; they were housed with thousands of other refugees in makeshift tents. The endless task of establishing a new home, with a new language, in yet another unknown place and culture, has always been an underlying question in my family. That brown suitcase still holds all of the original documents that are the cherished evidence of our family’s journey.
This piece is part of my ongoing project “HomeBound”.