Three Sisters: Note from the family
AFTERWORD FROM LIVIA RAVEK
From the moment that Heather walked into my home, I instantly liked her. I was drawn to her beautiful smile, cheerfulness and her lovely accent. To me, it was miraculous that Heather would come to see me. I was astonished that she would make a change to her busy touring schedule and come to Israel to meet with me, from South Africa, before returning to her home and family in Australia.
We do have something in common. Heather wrote her first novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, about Lale and Gita, and I knew them from a young age – ‘before’ – back home in Slovakia. Heather has Lale and Gita in her heart, and great love and empathy for people.
The rest is history. It was unbelievable that Heather would write about the lives of my sisters and me. She has a gift of being able to quietly listen and understand. Three Sisters has been two years in the making. I have grown to know Heather, consider her a sister and part of my family, and I love her deeply. I am so proud and honoured to know her.
My family and I look forward to seeing Heather in Israel again soon.
AFTERWORD FROM ODED RAVEK
Sometimes the stars align and, by a zillion-to-one chance, you discover that dreams, every now and then, do come true.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve longed for the life story of my mother, Livia, and her two older sisters, Cibi and Magda, to be told. In the spring of 2019, my wife, Pam, and I were about to embark on a trip to visit our adult children and family in Israel, and to celebrate the wedding of our niece. While doing some last-minute shopping, the novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz caught my eye, and we purchased it to read on our trip. Little did I know that the purchase of The Tattooist would lay the foundation towards the fulfilment of my long-held dream.
We joyfully reunited with our children and my mother, my ema, in Israel; at the same time Heather Morris was preparing for her South African book tour to promote her bestselling, powerful novel about Lale Sokolov, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Giving Ema the book to read, she was delighted to realise that she knew Lale and, without reading ahead, knew that his beloved wife was Gita, her former schoolmate.
An email from Pam to Heather set the wheels in motion. Heather changed her plans to return to Australia from South Africa, and arrived in Israel a few days after our family celebration, to meet with Ema and our family. In Heather’s skilful hands, a compelling, inspirational story of the life of the three sisters began to form. My long-held wish was beginning to come true.
The story of my mother, Cibi and Magda is testament to the power of love and devotion. Against all the odds, the three sisters survived the most heinous, systematic genocide that the world has ever known. And yet they went on to live and work in a new country, the country of my birth, learning a new language and culture. They lived lives full of laughter, fulfilment and joy, always surrounded by love, with each successive generation of sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren growing and thriving in freedom.
This book brings together all of the stories that I’d heard from a young age. Heather captures the beautiful, peaceful lives that Ema and her family enjoyed in Vranov, and the helplessness, chaos and horrible tragedies that these strong, incredible sisters endured and witnessed.
As a child, I saw the sadness in my ema’s eyes. I felt her sorrow, but didn’t understand. I would save my small birthday and holiday gifts of money, and purchase presents for her so that I could see her beautiful smile light up her eyes. My sister, Dorit, and I had the best childhoods ever, filled with love and laughter, security and liberty. We were blessed that my father, my aba, and my ema were open with us, and didn’t keep their lives before we knew them a mystery. As the years went by, I began to understand that they had survived the unimaginable.
Engraved in my mind is a pivotal moment when I stood with Ema next to the fence at death camp, Birkenau. Ema described to me the depravity that went on in that place and about life beyond the dividing electrical fence. She told me: ‘It is the same blue sky and sun that is over the death camp and the fields and forests beyond, on the other side of the fence.’ She could see families together, children playing, and people working in the fields. They totally ignored what was going on in the death camp, continuing to live and go about their business as though it were an ordinary day, as though those on the other side of the fence were invisible. Here, where Ema stood, on one side of the fence, was the stench of death, murder and misery, yet ‘on the other side there was life and freedom. And it was all under the same blue sky. How could it be?’
Later, at a newly opened boutique hotel at a ski village not far from Auschwitz and Birkenau, Pam and I returned to the car. We told Ema and Aba, Dorit, and our niece, Ruth, what we’d just learned. This converted mansion had an infamous history. It had been a retreat for SS officers who worked at the death and extermination camps. ‘Shall we look for other accommodation?’
Ema’s response, as always, was insightful and succinct: ‘We are here. They are not.’
AFTERWORD FROM YOSSI LAHAV, SON OF CIBI AND MISHKA LAHAV
I was born and raised in Kfar Ahim, a community of Holocaust survivors.
At the time of my birth, my mother suffered from tuberculosis and couldn’t take care of my older brother and a new baby – we were assigned to public child’s facilities. The first two years of my life I spent in Jerusalem, while my brother was in Tiv’on.
As I was growing up, my parents, Cibi and Mischka, were busy building a new life in a new country, after surviving World War II. They were never outspoken about what happened to them ‘before’, and us kids never really asked or were concerned about my mother’s arm tattoo. Maybe it was because my parents were never particularly interested in sharing, or because nobody else in my immediate surroundings ever voluntarily shared their past, I didn’t feel like something was amiss.
Not until I met my future wife, Ronit (Sophie), and discovered she had known her great-grandparents, was I struck by how much it was that I had missed – I had missed a generation I never met or even imagined could be present in my life.
It was only when my daughters, Noa and Anat, grew up enough to start asking questions, that I was confronted with the scope of what had happened to my mother. This was the first time I realised her heroism: the way my mother and her two sisters survived those horrible times.
The story of these three sisters, Cibi, Magda and Livia, is an amazing tale of wits and courage. Their incredible survival, their arrival to and settlement in Israel, and their thriving ‘tribe’, are all evidence of their victory.
AFTERWORD FROM AYALA RAVEK
I remember, as a child, tracing my fingers on her arms, over the faded numbers.
I remember coming home one afternoon to see my safta speaking to a stranger, with tears in her voice, immortalising her story into a camera; and being scared and curious, and not knowing what to do or say.
I remember the small knife she always carried in her purse, next to the mints she would share with me during car rides; the knife that she would occasionally take out and cradle in her hand, working her thumb over the worn handle.
I remember the first time she told me where she found the knife – in the camp – after asking her where the knife was from, and I said, ‘Cool.’ We were in the middle of a mall, sitting on a bench. I was a child but, still, I remember the feeling of instant regret, knowing I had said the wrong thing and not really understanding why; but I understood the sadness in her eyes.
I remember, years later, that the knife was lost in a taxi, and that I cried to myself that night, feeling a loss I could not explain.
I remember the sleepovers in my grandparents’ room, and sitting outside in the sunshine eating ice cream, after having walked by the water in the summer sun.
I remember the laughter around the table as bellies ached and tears rolled down cheeks, our laughter so hard we couldn’t catch our breath; as the pain that was always there below the surface found its release. But what I remember most of all are the hugs when Safta would whisper: ‘You are my victory. My family is my victory.’
INTERVIEW WITH LIVIA RAVEK
Holocaust Survivor and one of the three sisters who survived