The Last Brother
My Uncle, Edward Heisler, who died today at 89 years old, was not just my father's brother, they were each other’s best friends. They survived Auschwitz together to build a new life in America together, each absolutely certain that it was the other who saved him. My father, Jack, often said he would never have survived without Eddie but Eddie scoffed at such a claim. It was, Ed was absolutely certain, the other way around. (Ed Heisler didn’t much like being called Eddie but, of course, my father could get away with it and I suppose, because I was Jack’s son, I mostly got away with it too).
My father tells an extraordinary story about their last few days in Auschwitz. With several fingers and toes severely frost bitten and completely wasted from starvation, the harsh treatment and a long winter, my father was weak and deathly ill but through a kind intervention was allowed a bunk in the ‘hospital’ lager, a slightly better but hardly hospital like barracks. With few guards left Eddie was able to sneak in to join him there and Dad made room for him in the narrow bed. A day or so later, the camp was suddenly abuzz with rumors of an impending abandonment of the camp. The few remaining guards ordered a march of those who could still walk to another camp (Buchenwald). There was talk that after the march out Auschwitz would be blown up to burn and bury its’ crimes.
Ed tried to convince my father to go on the march, he begged my father to go, but my father would not. He was deeply in pain and weak and felt he had nothing left. While he really wanted Ed to go my father had decided that he was at the end of the trail. However the future would come to him, whether it would be death or salvation, my father was prepared to receive his future only in that bed. Eddie tried again to convince him but my father, not normally a very intransigent man, would not be moved. So Eddie did the only thing he could do: he crawled back into bed with my dad.”If you die here,” he told my father, “I die with you” and that was that. They were liberated just a few days later.
Samuel and Sarah Heisler had 10 sons and daughters in Bilke, CZ. They were: Necha, Mendy, Leona, Bernard, Ethel, Rose, David, Mariam, Jack and Ed. They were an extraordinary generation of siblings, unusually accepting, unusually compassionate, unusually bonded and deeply loving with each other and with others both in an out of their extended families. But the bond between Ed and my father was just a little more extraordinary, their love and commitment to each other just ever so slightly more powerful. Of this extraordinary group, Ed Heisler was the last, and his passing is somewhat sadder because of it. I already miss Eddie; I will always miss them all.