Her name was Ann Chervin.
I don’t know much about her. I don’t know which concentration camp she and her husband, Marion, were in or how they got out. I don’t know how her husband and their adult child, Eve, preceded Ann in death. Or why Eve was childless when she died.
But I do know Ann liked red roses. I know she custom ordered her oak veneer kitchen cabinets from a place in Torrance in the 1970s. I know she let her ficus trees grow rampant and that she must not have been very tall, because her bathroom sinks were installed slightly lower than you’d expect.
I know all these intimate details about Ann because I live in her house. People say it takes six months for a new home to feel like your own, but it’s been three years and I still sometimes feel like the caretaker.
For one, I still get her mail. Mostly stuff from survivor groups and Shoah foundations, particularly at this time of year. More deeply than that, though, Ann’s spirit is still here. I don’t mean that in a haunted house kind of way; just in the sense that the touches she put in her home are still very much present: The mezuzah she kissed every day is still here, tucked in a drawer in my living room.
Her red rose bush is still here, too, the only plant that survived the year between her death and the time her home went on the market. I have a strict policy for my garden: I’ll only plant you, if I can eat you. But I made an exception for Ann’s roses. A survivor’s only surviving plant deserves love.
Then there are the intangibles. I think about her when I chop vegetables at my kitchen counter for my family. I am certain Ann did the same for hers. Did she roll up her sleeves the way I do? Or did she keep them down to hide the numbers tattooed on her arm?
And what about the fact that her daughter died? I think about that when I read about the Six Million Coins project. It’s a program in Los Angeles to collect money for Holocaust survivors in need. As part of the project, Jewish leaders in L.A. plan to read the names of all 6 million people who perished in the Holocaust.
According to Rabbi David Wolpe, who gives the intro on the project’s Web site, the reason given for reading the names is not to remember that these people died, but that they lived. We say a person’s name to remember them.
Ann Chervin may have survived the Holocaust, but there is no one left to say her name. She has no grandchildren to fuss over her rose bushes or to keep her mezuzah safe. She survived, but it’s unlikely she will be remembered. Maybe that’s why I still feel as though I live in Ann’s house – because it is my duty as a Jew to remember that Ann lived at all.
And so I remember this stranger. This person whose house I inhabit. I remember Ann Chervin.
As Yom HaShoah approaches this month, I hope you will, too.