My mother was an unusual and talented woman who lived in an unusual and difficult time. I realize that some of the stories I tell about her may seem harsh, or even slightly confessional, but this is the risk one runs writing about someone else’s life, particularly if that someone is a family member whose life was dramatic and colorful. So I guess this is a warning: a few of the stories may seem raw or shocking. If you wonder why I write them, it’s because a) I’m a story teller and can’t help myself, b) I’m interested in what was going on historically during the time Franyo had her many adventures, and c) I’m trying to make sense of the mysterious patterns of my own life.
One of the most important facts about Franyo is she had a fervent dislike of organized religion in any form. Looking back, I can understand this since she was a Jewish girl born and raised in Germany between the wars, during a time of growing antisemitism. Though she never talked about it, she could not have avoided the creepy, skin-crawling feeling of being discriminated against.
According to her, she didn’t come from a particularly religious family. She was a very forthright, truthful person, but I’m not sure she was truthful about this aspect of her life. She must have gone to Jewish schools though she was pretty hush hush about it, even with me, her daughter, years after all the horrors. She would talk about her many pets, her rebelliousness against her mother, how she snuck out through a window at night to meet up with friends, how she formed a liaison with a young man she met on a bus. Zilch about growing up Jewish in Hamburg, Germany.
The only thing she did say was her half sister, Kathe (Kate-uh), who was seventeen years older than she was, married a very religious Jew, whom she despised because she was frequently sent to Kathe’s house for Shabbat and the brother-in-law would grope her. Ugh. That right there may have been the beginning of Franyo’s distrust of religion. Certainly she didn’t equate the total quiescence of Shabbat with good times since she was a fun-loving girl who hated rules, particularly pointless ones such as not being allowed turn on lights or make a cup of tea. Having to protect herself from a male adult who imposed these rules in the name of religion would have been doubly difficult.
I guess she wasn’t able to talk to her sister or mother about these things, and just stiff-upper-lipped it. But whenever I asked her about religious experience she glossed over the whole subject, saying she never practiced and was only sent to Shabbat at her sister’s because her mother had a busy social life and farmed her out on Friday-Saturdays. Years later I learned from a cousin that Franyo grew up Orthodox, but carefully hid that fact.
To be continued…