Mom kept over sixty years of her private war locked up inside her.
Mom is a survivor.
On one of my winter visits to NY, Mom and I decided to go through her bedroom closet to organize it.
I worked the top shelf since I was taller. I found a shallow, dusty, box wedged in the back. I took the carton to her bed, where inside I found a brown, worn leather portfolio containing photographs.
“Mom, come over and sit down with me for a minute,” I said.
Mom came to the bed, and that minute turned into four hours. Inside the binder were the only photos she had after WW2. I decided then to write Mom’s story.
One particular photograph piqued my interest—a man, wearing a uniform with Royal Crests on his sleeves. On the back, he wrote,
“Meiner Lieben Rozi,
Eutin, Marz 1946”
“Mom, who is he?” I asked.
“He’s the soldier who saved me.” There was an awkward silence for what seemed like minutes but was only seconds.
“Ernest Finch,” she said, without turning the photo.
“Please tell me what you remember about him,” I said.
“The Germans put us on a train. I don’t know where we went. Above us, I heard the roar of planes. Suddenly, our train was bombed. My cousins and I ran toward the woods. I felt the warm, sticky feel of blood on my neck. I ran as far as I could, until I couldn’t go on. Weak and barely able to breathe, I fell to the ground. I don’t know for how long, but when I saw soldiers. I thought, ‘they’ll kill us for sure’. Next, I remember waking up in a hospital. In the corner, sitting in a chair, much like in the picture, I see him.” Mom pointed to the photo.
“He told me how his troops found us. The day was May 3, 1945. Red Cross came and took us to a hospital. He sent soldiers to stand guard daily for my safety and a few years later, he arranged for my new life in New York.”
‘I must write her story down,’ I promised myself. Living three thousand miles away, I knew this would be difficult. Over sixty years had passed. What will she want to talk about? In years past, the Spielberg Foundation approached Mom for her testimony. She declined them several times. I didn’t want to interrogate her either.
One thought gnawed at me. I must thank Ernest Finch. He deserved that much.
The story I’d like to tell you now is about my journey doing research to get mom’s memoir written.
Once back in California, my research began. I posted a note to British Army Of The Rhine, and included Finch’s photo. I posted notes and photos to the British War Museum links. I sent notes to Holocaust websites. Months passed, and I didn’t hear back from anyone. Discouraged, I kept sending information to every website related to the war effort.
Finally, I received e-mail from someone in London, England. She told me Ernest Finch was her father. My heart raced: finally all these months of research paid off. The pieces fit until she mailed photographs. Clearly, he was not the same soldier. We bonded a friendship. Ms. Finch is still searching for information on her dad. I do what I can to help.
After many months, I found a book about Muna Lubberstedt, the slave labor camp Mom was in after Auschwitz. I contacted the author. He sent me his book, written in German. Rudy Kahrs has been invaluable. He sent me copies of letters, documents, pictures and interpretation of the book. Months later, I got a response from BAOR’s website administrator. Phil wrote me, “The uniform Finch wears in the photo shows he was a Warrant Officer. He’s someone very important in his Company. I’ll do more research and get back to you.” I heard nothing more for months.
Later, an Englishman named Alan emailed me with information and book recommendations. Alan confirmed what Phil wrote. Finch was a Warrant Officer, Second Class in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Alan’s months of research led to information that Finch was once ‘Ernst Fink’, a German who fled Hitler’s Germany to go to England. After hearing this, my cousin who was with mom through the war, confirmed Finch spoke German and was Jewish.
After Australia, ‘Ernst Fink’ went to England. England sent him to France and Germany. He stayed until 1948, serving his Army as an interpreter in the Deportation Camp my mother was placed in.
For a while, information slowed down. How was I going to find him? I wanted to thank him for saving Mom. I tried “Googling” his name but came up short. Alan helped, but came up short too.
Later, Alan found ship registries showing Finch left England for the USA in 1948. The registry listed Ernest’s wife. I decided to “Google”, and the first isting was an obituary. Mrs. Finch died in 2007. The obituary named two nieces living in San Diego. I used social media to send messages. Two days later, I got a response back. Ernest Finch was her Uncle. He lived in San Diego till 1972, where he died. I did what I set out to do and thank Finch’s family for saving Mom on May 3, 1945.
To think; Ernest Finch, the Officer who saved my mothers life lived an hour from me. Imagine, if Finch lived and I found him after 1989, the year I moved to California? Mom came every year to visit for six weeks. Imagine if Ernest Finch and Mom reunited? I wonder to this day if it would have been wonderful, awkward or uneventful given the fact that Mom buried her secrets for so long.
I thank everyone involved for helping me connect the dots to mothers past.
Hopefully one day I can ‘Pay it Forward’.
Esther Goodman Bio:
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