Eulogy for Dina Otterman
November 16, 2003
By
Bernard Otterman

 

My mother, blessed be her memory, lived for more than nine decades.  She lived and was personally effected by WWI, the First Woman Revolution, WWII and the Holocaust, displacement and post war German reconstruction, immigrating to the United States and learning how to speak and write in English, both which she accomplished well, to the point where in her late sixties she was starting to write poems.  She and my father also started a real estate business, which has grown and prospers.  Most important of all loved and raised two sons, who in turn begot five grandchildren, and had she lived a few more days, she would have received the news that a great-great grandchild is on the way.

       To live, to survive, to succeed through such tumultuous and traumatic events you have to be remarkable.  My mother was a very remarkable woman.  She was very intelligent, courageous to the point of being heroic, determined, and hard working.  Measured in terms of her accomplishments you also would call her a feminist, although she never used that word in herself.  She was also a beautiful looking woman.  She had sparkling blue-gray eyes, creamy smooth white skin, full auburn hair, a good figure, and sensuous full lips.  She was very photogenic and used her womanly wiles whenever she thought it would help her cause.  Although never afraid to seek out advice, she was skeptical and realistic, and always made up her own mind.

       I don’t know the exact year my mother was born.  On the ten-day ocean voyage from Bremen, Germany to New York a few years were lost.  This is better than plastic surgery and certainly far less expensive.  Of course you have to wait a few years longer for the social security checks to arrive, but by then she didn’t need that money.  Upon her arrival in the States, in November of 1951, her official age was listed as 37 and she was the mother of a two year old boy called Chaim, now Harry, and a 14 year old called Bernhard, now Bernard.  Based on these facts this would mean that I was born when she was twenty-two years old.  We all know she was older than that.

       When she married, say at the age of 27, she was a mature worldly person, with a strong faith in God and a small self-made fortune, which she contributed to her marriage as her dowry.

The fact that she was wealthy after having been orphaned twice in the early years of her life is a testament to her willingness to work hard, to her good business sense and to her honesty and loyalty to her customers and suppliers.

       She gave up her business when she married and devoted herself to being a wife, mother and a caregiver to my father who had become ill.  I was a difficult child.  I was frequently sick and an extremely poor eater.  Even before WWII started I was a handful, and you can imagine how difficult it was to keep me alive during the Holocaust.  While most mothers love their children, her love and dedication to me was extreme.  I’m tempted to say – unprecedented.  If it would save my life she would voluntarily have walked into the gas chamber.  But the Nazis wanted to kill us both and also my father after they had extracted from him every ounce of his strength.  That was the dilemma, that was the struggle.  In order to save me she had to save herself and my father.

       I would now like to recount an abridged version of one of the many escapes in which my mother planned. I will end with reading of a poem which describes our situation after that event.

 

***********

 

“Mother and son are walking past sun drenched fields of wheat, barley, and oats in amber hues.  Polish soil certified cleansed of Jews.  Fuel is scarce and wheat is harvested, as it was a hundred years ago.  Men swing scythes, women and youngsters gather stalks which are tied into bundles with rough ropes.  These bundles leaned against each other, in a circle, form tents.  These golden tents will stand against an open sky until the sheaths are dry and then thrashed to make the kernels fly.

Mother and son want to survive another day.  Their plan is simple. From village to village on dirt roads they walk.  To the farmers, in good Polish dialect they explain that Germans had forced them and other Poles, off a train.  Could they stay the night and rest?  For this plan to work at twilight they would have to beg.  "We are hungry and tired," they would say, "the next farm is far away."  This evening things do not go well.  Surly and suspicious, the farmer's wife says, “Go away.”  Some Poles take pride in saying they can smell a Jew a mile away.  Later, Mother says, "Tonight we must sleep outside.  Go ahead, sit in a tent you like. I will be in one on the other side.  Don't worry, dogs will not trouble us tonight.  Be sure to pray the Shema."

Mother, I promise you I will always say the Shema.


 

Collected Poems of Dina Otterman

Laughing through tears

On the dresser
In a golden frame
Stands a picture of me
A beautiful smiling face
Is it me
I wonder.

Why am I sad
Why can't I smile
Why am I doing things
Which I don't like

I remember the day
When I went to the studio
To be photographed
I felt uneasy
Harry had told me
He has made up his mind
To leave home.

"Again," I said
And tears came in to my eyes
When the photographer
Tried to bring out
A courteous smile.

August 1976
Dina

A merry day

I feel so great
your love within my heart
My house is bright
of sunshine light
Full of children's laughter
The joy is me
The joy is you
You making me a mother
Mother day
Mother day
What a beautiful holiday.

When in September 1939

When in September 1939
The War #2 began
With the world is over
Only God is left
The worst what could happen to me
A feeling of emptiness
Ambition honor
This happy daily life
Is gone.
For what shall I live?
For my child!
To live and to fight,
Like an animal:
Looking all day to find food
Just to exist.

All day the radios
All day the news
Soldiers marching fighting falling
The Germans took our city Lodz
Hitler spoke in Daurig
No hope for the Jews
What shall I do.

We adjust to the time
Our life must go on
To leave from your land
Those you love are behind
The only value your life.

The ghetto in Radom

The ghetto in Radom
Is surrounded with a fence
A miserable place
In the ghetto I must stay.

We are five in the room
Maylich and Mose
The room is small
No place for us.

On the small bed in the corner
Sleeps my husband and son
On three chairs close to the bed
I lay down

My wish for one chair more
To be able to stretch out my feet
It is no way to get
Like a ball I sleep.

My little boy is in bed sick
And I must go to work
Behind locked doors
He is alone

The window is facing the south
The sunrays pouring in
Making the room warm
Our life still sounds.

December 1939

I can't remember a winter as cold
The temperature 40 below zero
It is impossible to stand
The frost and the bitter cold

I go to my mother
I go to my sisters
Will I see you again?
Good-bye.  No more tears don't cry

A carriage and a small horse
Me and my baby, dressed in hearty cloth
To the city Warsaw I go
The wind is blowing icy cold

I only hope we reach Glowme
To Warsaw too far to go
I'm sorry for you, and your baby
The horse can't run any more

We left Lodz after noon
Now is midnight, we are in Glowme
Here is the market get off
Lady, our deal is off.

Come on darling try to walk
We can't sit in the sheet
The air is frozen bitter cold
Until the morning, we freeze to death

I see a house a dimming light
I knock on the door, go away
The house is full of people
No peace for you today

I find a long log of wood
I reach the window
Please open have pity or
I'm going to break your window

Come in, O miss Dina, hi
Outside in the dark I couldn't see
Last summer in the country
We have been neighbors. (I remember) o thee

June July August
Only a few months ago
We were normal happy humans
A good life.  I cry

Now I'm alone and my baby
My home, my household
Help us go to Warsaw
Where my husband is not knowing a thing

In Warsaw my husband awaits
Impossible to board the train
Who knows what can be tomorrow
To Warsaw I must go straight

A smile

A smile is something nice to see
It doesn't cost a cent
A smile is mostly all your own
it never can be lent
A smile is welcome everywhere
it does away with frowns
A smile is good for everyone
To ease the ups and downs

The world looks to the moon

The world looks to the moon
The future will tell
One small step for man
A giant leap for mankind

Three ambitious astronauts
Armstrong Buzz Collins
They contest the unimaginable distance
Between the earth and the moon

Two men and the Eagle
They landed on the moon
They walked the dead new world
Exploring the moon

With amazing reach time will tell
Collecting rocks and stones
Look far off the human planet glimmers
In the Eagle the earth is the moon

They salute the US flag
On the surface of the moon
They left their footprints in the dust
They took off of the moon

Immense faith
Rendered vows in space
High courage triumphant moments
The astronauts landed on the earth

Lord the creator of the moon
A ball of rocks and dirt
Who blessed men with wisdom
Thousands of scientists made it work

Lord the creator of the earth
Who blessed the apple tree
The little buds they blossom
Apples bring forth the tree

Lord the creator who gave life
Who sustained men and the earth
Where all the nations live
Bless with peace the earth

Lord the creator of the universe
Galaxies in no end in space
Who preserved the moon of time
Preserve our solemn world
Our rare life of time of time to come

December 1939

I can't remember a winter as cold
The temperature 40 below zero
It is impossible to stand
The frost and the bitter cold

I go to my mother
I go to my sisters
Will I see you again?
Good-bye.  No more tears don't cry

A carriage and a small horse
Me and my baby, dressed in hearty cloth
To the city Warsaw I go
The wind is blowing icy cold

I only hope we reach Glowme
To Warsaw too far to go
I'm sorry for you, and your baby
The horse can't run any more

We left Lodz after noon
Now is midnight, we are in Glowme
Here is the market get off
Lady, our deal is off.

Come on darling try to walk
We can't sit in the sheet
The air is frozen bitter cold
Until the morning, we freeze to death

I see a house a dimming light
I knock on the door, go away
The house is full of people
No peace for you today

I find a long log of wood
I reach the window
Please open have pity or
I'm going to break your window

Come in, O miss Dina, hi
Outside in the dark I couldn't see
Last summer in the country
We have been neighbors. (I remember) o thee

June July August
Only a few months ago
We were normal happy humans
A good life.  I cry

Now I'm alone and my baby
My home, my household
Help us go to Warsaw
Where my husband is not knowing a thing

In Warsaw my husband awaits
Impossible to board the train
Who knows what can be tomorrow
To Warsaw I must go straight

Untitled

I

Once upon a time
On the green fields
On the gray banks of the east river
of New York
A marvelous mountain was erected.  The United Nations
A place so big
That all the world's ambassadors
Can fit in it.
To keep peace through the world
and not to make war anymore
Sessions- speeches- debates
The UN is a fake
Only the colorful national flags
Waving together high in the sky
are our pride.

II

The world is still a mystery
Little children sucking their mother's breasts'
Holding on to mother's dress
Growing up to be strong
For what?
For joy for peace
Only to become a man of war

III

In the morning, in the evening
For peace we pray
In the land of Israel we will stay
Where peace on earth will be
Jerusalem- our dream come true
Jerusalem- the holy city

From the I

The only reality is the concretely real human
being, our neighbor, whom God
puts in our path.

The dream reveals the reality which
conception lags behind.  That is the
horror of life and the terror of art.

Every day life is the greatest detective story
Every second we pass by, without noticing
thousands of corpses and crimes
That is the routine of our lives.
But if something does succeed
in surprising us, we have a marvelous
sedative in the (make believe)
detective story, which presents
every mystery in life as legally
punishable exception.

A man's embittered failures
are often only the petrified bewilderment
of a boy.

Sight does not master the pictures, it is
the pictures which master one's sight
They flood one's consciousness
The cinema involves putting the eye
into uniform, when before it was waked.

Over the Circle

I walk I walk
I'm getting tired
I walk I walk
I'm getting tired

I'm in a circle
Where is no end
I circle to the point
getting closer and closer

I reach the center
I stay
no more place to go
I'm alone

Where am I Eternity
Just to die
I fall on my knees
I cry

On my fours I crawl
I fight I got strength
I broke the circle
I'm over

I've been here before
Here I belong
To the world to people
I open my eyes.