So hin učo oda svetos,
hej, de te merel, jaj, mušinav.
Hej, de te merel, jaj, mušinav,
hej, de njič man Devla njič na dukhal

The world is so high,
hey, I have to die.
Hey, I have to die.
Hey, nothing hurts me, God, nothing


Sometimes, there in the dark Papu Frančišek would begin to sing. His words, wrapped in melancholy and cigarette smoke would rise and fall with the flicker of light from a candle or the fire. His words fluttering so gently to our ears that we could barely understand them.

Soven čhave, soven,
ča te chal ma mangen,
joj, se tumari e phuri daj
andr’odi kalji phuv džal.

Sleep my children, sleep,
just don’t ask for food,
oh, ‘cause your grandmother
is going into the black ground.


Some traumas are so terrible, so intense, that their force continues to reverberate through time and place, making it impossible to escape their terror, even generations later. Papu and Maami told of their suffering quietly, gently, rocking it in their empty hands; swallowing their tears in cups of whisky-laced tea.

Denaš, mamo, dromeha,
jaj, de bo me džav mre dromeha.
Me nasig avljom me de khere,
la da te murdardena.

Run, mother, run along the road
oh, ‘cause that’s the road I’m taking.
I came home late,
my mother was killed.


As a child I thought that our songs were just words. I didn’t realize that they were our history books; memories of our feet, our hands, our hearts. Each story was a story among many, words wrapped in hundreds of other words. We wore our grief like dancing skirts, swishing quietly as we stepped.

Roma, Roma, ma roven
de, imar pale na avena.
Jaj, de mamo so kerava,
imar amen murdarena

Roma, Roma, don’t cry,
you will not come back.
Alas, mother, what should I do?
We’ll be killed soon.


Our loss was vast, as wide as all the countries we traversed, as huge as the sky stretched like canvas above us. Our narratives bore witness to the loss, pain, grief, and hope woven into our lives. They prepared our children and their children for the cataclysms to come. My grandmother’s life was measured out in footsteps and smoke-filled breaths.

Imar na birinav,
mro jilo man dukhav.
Imar mange mro dživipen
de ča avka rozdžaha.

Di se mar na birinav,
i de o jilo man dukhav.
Di kajci mange mro dživipen,
jaj di te merel mušinav.

I can no more,
my heart is aching,
I will, to life,
just say goodbye.

I can no more
my heart is aching.
This much life I have,
I have to die.


The curling smoke of Maami’s cigarettes coated her stories in ash, the words buried like the bones of our relatives devoured in the Holocaust. The weight of them crushing our hearts, the sadness sometimes overwhelming, but within each was an intense longing for the time before –  a time when life was better, simpler, kinder.

Le gaveha džava,
phabaj čhingerava.
Joj, ko pašal ma džala,
sakones me dava.

I’ll walk through the village,
I’ll pick apples.
Whoever passes by me
I’ll give one.


My trauma was often secondary, brought on gentle words, falling into the fire. The Holocaust lay like a heavy weight on our lives, no public space in which to speak such horrors. Our grandmothers spoke us into being on the floors of broken houses, swaddling us in the pain of their lives. Each loss another footstep. Each loss tied, inextricably to that huge, first loss – our homeland.

Kaj me, mamo, khere džava,
so me tuke de phenava?

Mother, when I come home,
what will I tell you?