After the Walk: Visiting Esther

notes from Lorna Brunstein:

We returned from Germany and even though I was aware I was coming down with a cold and was also completely exhausted by the trip, I  knew I had to visit mum as soon as possible. So I went to London the following day to see her.

We had done a Skype call with her in Belsen on completion of the walk, and even though we had some difficulty with communication – mum’s hearing is poor and the signal was breaking up, it was nevertheless really heartwarming to see her. She was in good spirits and excited to see us and clearly very impressed by the technology that enabled our contact to happen – her wonderful words off camera at the end of the skype…. “now that’s what I call magic!”


photo by Julia Simmons

I visited with my daughter (Esther’s Granddaughter), Alicia. I had with me an orchid flower that Annette, our wonderful host, historian and friend in Hannover, had given us to take to mum. She had taken one flower from the orchid that we had given her as a gift, which was bought from the garden centre at Ovelgonne, very close to the site of Camp Waldeslust. Annette was very keen that mum should have this flower so we needed to get it to her as soon as possible.


Mum wanted a blow-by-blow account of our week there and I showed her all the photos we had taken on the ipad.  We talked to her about the Hohn camp which served as a makeshift hospital after liberation for those who were recovering from typhus, and when I told her that the hospital was in the ‘Roundhouse’ a former ballroom, she became quite animated and said that she was certainly there in a bed recovering but not in the ballroom as it was too crowded – she distinctly remembers being accommodated in one of the corridors. I shall take her a picture of the ballroom next time I go. belsen-roundhouse-windows_24415680529_o

We also talked about where the womens’ barracks in Belsen were to try to ascertain if she had any memory of where in Belsen she was, and when I asked her if she remembered any trees, she said very quickly that she did. Bernd Hostmann had asked me to ask her, as he felt sure that she would have been in the womens’ barracks which were in an area surrounded by trees. Her immediate affirmative response to that question confirmed for us that the place where we had left our stones and had played the kaddish was indeed the right place.


photo by Julia Simmons

I talked about the little building that Irmlinde showed us – the outside toilet block and only remaining structure of Waldeslust.  Mum did remember and I will take her the photo of it when I visit the end of this week, as she very much wants to see it. Waldeslust remains 3

I am always concerned and mindful of not wanting to churn up painful and distressing memories for mum but she says each time that it is helpful and healing for her to know that we have been to the exact place where it all happened.

She says those thoughts are with her all the time – how could they not be? Talking and sharing them for her, affirms and validates her and what she went through. It was right we went – it was our way of bearing witness.

She said again to me that she wished she could have come and walked with us and is cross with herself that she could not!

I never ever cease to be amazed by my mother’s spirit and strength. I am truly humbled by this amazing woman.

About rswpost

Exploring connections between landscape, place and people. on foot and online. Working collaboratively and harnessing the participatory potential of social media.
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