A thin blanket of snow lay on the window sill and the 4am sky sat heavy above. I could smell the warmth of bread from the kitchen and the fire chattered in the living room.
“It’s time,” Maami said as she brought still steaming mariklja out to where I stood, shivering slightly. It was sometime in January, but my memory has faded, only the ozone-taste of snow and the bitter sky remain. Stuffing my feet in cracked green wellies, a size too small, we stepped out into the frigid air.
We placed two mariklja on the window sill on a small red scarf, covered in snow.
We placed two in the fire, hissing and crackling in forgiveness.
We placed a glass of whisky, a flower, and a small painted plate on the table.
Memory sits as sparse as the winter grass now, faded and withered. I barely remember Papu’s face, skin taught like cracked leather. He never spoke of his family, lost in the forests, ghettos and camps of Poland and Lithuania. Twice a year though, we made special bread and remembered them.
January was for Maami’s family, lost in the Hungry Smoke of ‘Czechoslovakia’, Poland, Germany, and France. Her father had been born in January on a hillside in Poland, a pink and squalling joy to his mother and seven sisters. No one remembered which day it was, only that the snow fell and it was unusually cold. Maami never told me what happened to him and I’m not even sure she knows. Sometimes, she’d say he was ‘eaten by the wolves’ [SS Einsatzgruppe] and sometimes ‘devoured by the hungry smoke’ [death camp], but she’d shrug and take a drag on her cigarette as though neither outcome mattered much.
July was for Papu’s family. As far as we knew, all gone. All of them. I never heard him mention his brothers, sisters, parents, cousins. We never visited with any relatives. Like me, he was alone. Still, we’d make bread, pour a glass, and remember the nameless ones.
Today marks the UN International Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust. Today marks the day that Auschwitz was liberated. Today, I wear red to remember Maami Babka (Doll) and Papu František (Frank). Today, I wear red to remember Baba Edíta and Papo Štalto (Róbi). Today, I wear read to remember the families of my family who were taken from us. I celebrate the songs and stories they gave to us and the strength they instilled in us.
I take these flowers and let them gently float away, bringing hope to generations to come. I pray that our Roma will never forget who we are and that we will always remember our names.
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