In 1926, just shy of her first birthday, Hana's parents moved them to Prague. They lived in the center of town, just around the corner from the Old Town Square and not far from the Vitava River. The iconic narrow body of water separates the neighborhood where her short childhood lasted and where I resided. I was 25 when I stayed for five weeks in this city - the same age as she was when she immigrated to the United States.
Her father started a children's clothing store and a few years later, Petr, her younger brother was born. During her oral narrative, Hana (or Mutti as the whole family called her) confessed to me that she firmly believed a stork brought the new baby, "When I found out that I was going to have a sibling, I kept putting poppy seeds to feed the stork. I left them on the balcony every night to ensure a healthy baby."
For 13 years, they lived a comfortable, middle-class life in their free-thinking, democratic Czechoslovakia. Hana spoke three languages fluently - French and German in school and Czech at home. She had a strong Jewish identity, but made sure to describe her family as high-holiday Jews (the equivalent of just celebrating Christmas or Ramadan). Her deep involvement in the Zionist Youth Movement gave her passion and gave her community. It was these friends that she would rely on as family when her own was ripped away.
I wish I could see Prague through the eyes of other tourists. But, for me, this city serves as a museum and a reminder of a history long gone. When I walk into the Jewish buildings, I find my great grandparents names on the lists of those deceased and when I pass through the Old Town Square, I don’t look to the well known Astronomical Clock, I notice the store where my great grandfather once made his living. It is a strange feeling, to know that perhaps I am the only one in a dense herd of urban explorers who sees the streets for what was and not what is.