Archive for Monday, May 29, 1995


May 29, 1995


Again, the past and present merge in a day of remembrance.

He was tall, dark and handsome and he gave her chewing gum.

She was 16, living with her mother and father in a one-room tenement in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris.

The family's three years of hiding in a small French mountain-top village had ended earlier that year, and they had made their way to Paris, free of the Nazis who forced them to flee Austria in 1942.

They were lucky -- Jews who escaped the Nazi death camps and furnaces that claimed 6 million others.

And then he came, the army master sergeant, the cousin from America.

He was the first American soldier Eva Edmands had ever seen.

``He was appalled at the poverty that we were living in,'' Edmands told me recently, 50 years after that liberated spring of 1945. ``I was very impressed, and it was love at first sight.''

To Edmands, now a 65-year-old widow who lives in Lawrence, Memorial Day doesn't rank with June 6, the date in 1944 when the Allies landed at Normandy beach for the final assault on the German military machine.

That day, D-Day, was the beginning of her freedom, the day that secured her survival of the war and her eventual emigration with her parents to New York, to the America of her handsome soldier cousin, in 1948.

But today is a day of remembrance, and of thanks, a day to hoist an American flag outside her house and to visit her husband's grave. They met in New York. He died in 1993.

``I have deep, deep gratitude to the people who liberated France,'' she said. ``I am extremely proud to be an American and I love this country. I'm grateful that it welcomed me when we really had no place else to go.''

Edmands has told her story of survival countless times to schoolchildren and other groups in Lawrence and elsewhere, trying to preserve the memory of the Holocaust that claimed her grandparents.

``I feel very fortunate to have survived. And I don't know, of course, the reason why,'' she said. ``We must remember so it won't happen again.''

I reminded her of Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s, and of the ongoing ethnic war, mass killing and brutal atrocities against civilians in the former Yugoslavia.

The Holocaust was different, she said, because it involved the meticulously planned extermination of an entire group of people.

And today, she said, her memory and her tale counter the lies of modern fanatics who claim the Holocaust never happened.

She said teachers worried about increasingly violent and hateful students have asked her to share her message of hope.

``I feel that love is more of a positive than hate,'' she said. ``The answer is to love and not to hate and not to spend time on what might have been, and be grateful for what you have.

``People need to know and need to remember that despite the horror of the Holocaust, there were also good people.''

Her family was saved by a Catholic priest who hid them in his parish.

``I am a case where I am alive because good people did something,'' she said. ``It was a classic case of the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and the forces of light won.''

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