We had a patient at my hospital this winter whose story has stuck with me. Mrs. C. was eighty-seven years old, a Holocaust survivor from Germany, and she’d come to the emergency room because she’d suddenly lost the vision in her left eye. It tells you something about her that she was at work when it happened—in the finance department at Sears.
She’d worked her entire life. When her family left Nazi Germany, they narrowly avoided the concentration camps but ended up among twenty thousand Jewish refugees relocated to the Shanghai ghetto in Japanese-occupied China. She was a teen-age girl and spent eight years there, helping her family just to live and survive, until liberation in September, 1945. Denied a formal education, she worked as a seamstress upon admission to the United States. She rose to head seamstress at Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill, outside Boston. She married at twenty-three, had two sons, and was widowed at forty-four. She herself remained in remarkably good health.