87-yr-old survivor laments lockdowns: Holocaust stole my youth. Covid-19 is stealing my last years

An elderly New York resident has gotten emotional attention for her very strong words about the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the Holocaust.

Toby Levy explained in a moving opinion piece published by The New York Times how she is “trying not to give up” amid the coronavirus restrictions. The retired accountant shared an emotional perspective of how the Holocaust robbed her of her youth and how she is finding that, now at 87-years-old, the pandemic is “stealing my last years.”

“These days, I’m a little bored,” the New Yorker, who is a volunteer docent for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, wrote in the op-ed published Sunday.

“The boardwalk is my lifesaver. I’m two blocks from the boardwalk. I can walk to Coney Island if I want to. I go alone. I have some friends here. We used to play canasta once a week. But when Covid arrived, my daughter insisted, ‘You can’t sit in one room!’ So I talk on the phone. I read. The grandkids call in by Zoom. I also do a little bit of Zoom lecturing for the Museum of Jewish Heritage.”

(Image: Pixabay)

“I keep very busy, and it helps me a lot. I am trying not to give up. But what is getting me down is that I am losing a year. And this bothers me terribly. I’m 87 years old, and I lost almost a full year,” Levy lamented.

“I’m doing everything I can to stay connected, to make an impact,” she added, citing Zoom appearances she makes to schools and other audiences.

She went on to chronicle how she was born in 1933 in Chodorow, Poland –  modern-day Khodoriv in Ukraine – and lived in her grandfather’s house. But one day, amid the German occupation of her town in 1942, her father was warned about a coming persecution and he hid his family in the cellar.

“My grandfather didn’t want to go. He was shot in the kitchen; we heard it,” Levy recounted.

A family friend then helped them by housing the family in a barn on her property.

“My father built a wall inside the barn and a hiding place for nine people, where we slept like herrings. It was just four feet by five feet. Pigs and chickens were on one side, and we were on the other: my parents, my aunt and uncle, my maternal grandmother and four children, ages 4, 6, 8 and 12,” Levy wrote.

“We had lice. We had rats. But every day in the barn was a miracle,” she said of the two years spent there hiding. “I’m not a regular person. I’m a miracle child. Most of the Jews of Chodorow never returned.”

With the 2020 onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Levy recalled thinking, “I’m a miracle. I will make it. I have to make it.”

She contrasted the lack of freedom felt as a child to the lockdowns and restrictions she has been under the past few months.

“During the war, we didn’t know if we would make a day. I didn’t have any freedom. I couldn’t speak loudly, I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t cry,” she wrote.

“But now, I can feel freedom. I stay by the window and look out. The first thing I do in the morning is look out and see the world. I am alive. I have food, I go out, I go for walks, I do some shopping. And I remember: No one wants to kill me. So, still, I read. I cook a little bit. I shop a little bit. I learned the computer. I do puzzles,” Levy shared.

However, she added, she still feels as though she is “missing out.”

“A full year is gone. I lost my childhood, I never had my teenage years. And now, in my old age, this is shortening my life by a year,” she noted.

“I don’t have that many years left. The way we have lived this year means I have lost many opportunities to lecture, to tell more people my story, to let them see me and know the Holocaust happened to a real person, who stands in front of them today. It’s important,” Levy explained.

She lamented the heartbreaking “loss” of being separated from family members, including a grandson who has become a father during the pandemic.

“They have a baby boy now, and I have only seen him on Zoom. This child will never know me. That’s a loss,” Levy noted.

“Some of what I’m missing is so simple,” she wrote, pointing to a wished-for car trip to “anyplace.”

“But not now. So, again, this has shortened my life. That is my biggest complaint,” she added, as she concluded on a hopeful note.

“I understand the fear people have, and I understand you have to take care,” Levy acknowledged.

“But there is no comparison of anxiety, of the coronavirus, to the terror I felt when I was a child. That was a fear with no boundary,” she wrote. “This is going to end, and I am already thinking, planning where I am going first, what I will do first, when this ends.”

Former CBS anchor Dan Rather, who is 89-years-old, called Levy’s piece a “haunting perspective for our sad times, and from an earlier era of even greater horror” on Twitter.

“If you’re feeling down about how much the coronavirus has changed our lives, this is worth reading,” journalist Nisha Chittal tweeted. 

MSNBC producer Ayan Chatterjee said simply: “This gutted me.”

Frieda Powers

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