Golda Karwat Goronkin

When I heard the news on the radio that Iraq invaded Kuwait, chills went through my body.  Oh, please God not again!  At that time I was in Israel and getting ready to go back to the United States in two weeks. I stayed on for an extra two weeks to help my children prepare in case of war. For me the news was devastating. In my own mind I lived through the beginning of World War II in 1939 all over again, when as a child I had to prepare for war.

Even though my grandchildren don’t know much about my experience in World War II, in their eyes I became an expert. They looked to me for answers. My daughter, son-in-law, and I were up until late at night discussing all of the possibilities.. We spent several days shopping for all the necessities to survive, making lists, making decisions as to which room to seal off and which entrance or exit to use in case of a sudden attack. We decided not to use the bunker because the higher you are from the ground the better your chance of survival in case of a chemical attack. We talked about the responsibilities each child should have and how to teach the children to be calm and to act quickly when necessary.

We listened to the radio constantly. There was an announcement that there would be a list in the Jerusalem Post on how to prepare for war.  Early that Sunday my granddaughter, Haya Sara, ran to the store to buy the newspaper. We started checking off the list.  The children were very helpful, even the little ones. They started to bring to the sealed off room cans of food, bottled water, dry milk, baby formula, diapers, peanut butter, crackers, cookies and anything else we could think of.   

One of my granddaughters said, “But Bubby (grandmother) , how about a can opener?” “Good thinking,” I said, “Here it is and always keep it with the cans.”  I told them to remember where we put everything so that they would be able to find it if needed. The 12 year old made a list of what we still needed.   The 10 year old made a list of what goes in each bag or box. I put 8 bottles of water in a cooler. My 8 year old grandson was very proud of himself when he squeezed in one more bottle. Everyone, including the 4 year old, looked in the closets for plastic rain coats. The 3 year old came into the room with a jacket and said, “Bubby, is this OK?”  We put the plastic rain coats, plastic gloves, baking ┬Ěsoda, wash cloths, and small towels into a big plastic bag. (Wash cloths are dipped into a solution of baking soda and water and applied to the face in case of a chemical attack). I told the children that this bag should always be kept in front of any other things, because this may be the first thing they have to use. A flashlight, a battery operated radio, a pair of scissors, and tape to seal off the door were put up high so that the little ones would not get at them.

During the preparation of the sealed off room, one of my granddaughters asked me, “Bubby, am I going to die?” What can you say to an innocent child?  My answer was “No, you will remember this day. You will tell your grandchildren how your grandmother helped all of you to prepare in case of war, as I remember my mother helping us when I was a child at the beginning of World War II because of her experiences in World War I.” That Sunday will stay in my mind for the rest of my life.

For me it was not 1990 but 1939 all over again when World War II broke out. I could see myself standing in the kitchen of our house when our neighbor, Beila, came in hysterically screaming that she will not survive this war. She had survived World War I and felt that she would not survive another one. I remember how my mother tried to calm her down. My mother didn’t waste any time. She started preparing us for war. She made knapsacks for each of us. In each bag she put some clothes, soap, food, and other necessities.

She made little bags with a string to put around our necks with our names in them, and money in case we got separated. We were all scared when the first bomb fell on our town. My mother said that we were leaving. We took our bags and whatever we could carry and took off by foot to cross the bridge. That was the only way we could escape into the woods. That was the last time I saw my house.

My mother’s experience in World War I helped her to guide us and save us from a lot of hardship. Our town was burned to the ground. Many people were killed but thanks to my mother, we were not there to see it. After two weeks of horrifying episodes, we came back to our town which was rubble. The smell of burnt flesh was unbearable. My experience of those two weeks is too much to write about at this time. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of a long struggle to survive the war. I grew up very fast and learned that humans can endure the impossible and survive to see the fall of a dictator.    My father had to rely on my mother. He had no idea what war was about because he was in the United States during World War I. He did not survive World War II. He died in December, 1940.

Seeing how scared my grandchildren were, I had to hold back my fears and tears and make jokes with them and assure them that nothing bad would happen to them. “You will eat this food in peace and not in war and remember what a great team we were.”    I was also very scared.

As of now, I am concerned about the lasting effect this war will have on my grandchildren.    I hope that with God's help they will be strong enough to overcome this terrible time in their lives. Oh, how I wish that all the dictators would learn that war will get them nothing but their own destruction. Their ambition destroys their land and kills their own innocent people.

In a letter, my 8 year old grandson writes: Dear Bubby, How are you? Don't worry about us. We are fine. I know how to put on the gas mask all by myself. When are you coming? I miss you a lot.

I hope and pray that there will be a lasting peace in the Middle East and all over the world.

Written by Golda Goronkin