Five years ago today, my mother’s best friend passed away. The two met on the ship in 1938 as they fled Nazi Germany to America. In 2011, eighth-graders reunited the two friends after a 72-year separation.
The first time Gerda and Edith “talked,” they said hello and then sobbed together. No words were necessary. Each felt the other was the only person who understood their deep uprooting and unbearable losses. The Nazis murdered my mother’s parents and many family members. Some of Gerda’s loved ones perished, too.
After their reunion, I asked my mother, “Why was it so important to see Gerda again?” She said, “I knew she had suffered as I have. Seeing her was like looking in the mirror. It was like finding my twin.”
Gerda and Edith were historical twins.
When the two resumed their friendship, they talked on the phone twice a week. They never ran out of things to say, and they could feel each other’s moods.
Gerda had never told anyone about her traumatic childhood and her history. My mother encouraged Gerda, giving her the confidence to tell her story to her children and grandchildren. Gerda gave Edith unconditional love and understanding. As my mother said many times, “seeing Gerda was like seeing my parents again.”
Before they would end their phone conversations, the two old friends had a ritual.
Edith would tell Gerda, “You are my sister.”
And Gerda would whisper into the receiver, “And you are my sister.”
My mom wanted to attend Gerda’s funeral in 2017, but she said it would be too painful for her. During the last days of her life, Gerda was not coherent. But, when she had a moment of lucidity, she told her daughter, “Tell Edie I love her.”
Gerda and Edith modeled true friendship. They spoke in German and English. They giggled like schoolgirls. They shared the ups and downs of their lives. They fretted about politics and world affairs. They cried together about the weight of their shared history.
Most of all, they stepped into each other’s lives and filled in the holes.
Top: Gerda in hat; Edith with hands on head. Bottom: Gerda (l); Edith (r)
Link to book about Edith and Gerda’s childhood immigration journey:
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