Blanche Porway, a Holocaust survivor, would have been 95 years old next month; she passed away a few weeks ago. In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I wanted to share her story and how she inspired hope, in life and in death.
Blanche lost her father and brother to starvation in the ghettos in Poland. She, her sister and mother were sent to Auschwitz. When Deb and I first met Blanche last year in her apartment, she told us the story of how she was holding on tight to her mother’s arm when the Nazis yanked it away and sent her mother to the gas chamber line. At that moment when Blanche was ready to give up, her sister convinced her to persevere so that they could live to tell the story of ‘never again’. Blanche shared her story at our KindWorks’ Inspiration Day last year, and stunned the audience with her courage, tenacity, resilience, feistiness – and endearing charm. I remember when it was her turn to speak and I went over to help her, she said “I can do it’ and did a little shimmy as she walked up. That was Blanche. She had one resounding message that day and she made sure we heard it: “I’ve been to hell. But never again. Never never again. It should never happen in this world again.” She said, “People should be compassionate to each other, no matter what race, no matter what color.” And added, “open the borders.”Such was the experience of many refugees that I met last summer (2018) in Cairo, Egypt. Cairo is a wilderness of sorts; the sprawling metropolis of twenty million is alive with passion, pain, and the persistent will of its people to survive and thrive. The lack of pretense is shocking to eyes that have become used to the segregated facade of American cities; there is no avoiding or averting one’s eyes to the plight of the poor and outcast. It was there, somewhere in the midst of my shock, sadness, appreciation for and awe of that great city, that my heart was awakened, and my eyes attuned to the experience of refugees.
Blanche passed away a few weeks ago, from complications after an initial fall. I was heartbroken when I heard the news. I kept thinking of her smile, of the dance in her step, of how she insisted on reapplying her lipstick before I took her photo, of the joy she exuded after the life she had lived.
Blanche’s daughter got in touch with us and said she wanted to donate some of her moms’ furniture to set up a KindWorks refugee apartment. “Mom would have wanted this – she was all about the mitzvah – and she loved you all.” We were so deeply touched; not just by the gracious gesture, but by the poignancy of having a Holocaust survivor and refugee to this country over 70 years ago donate furniture to a new refugee family arriving soon. A few days ago, Deb, Alexa and I went to the apartment to see what we could use to set up our next apartment for a refugee family. And today – on Holocaust Remembrance Day – Blanche’s sofa, chair, coffee table, dishes (including a KindWorks mug amongst them) was moved to an apartment for an Afghan family arriving in a few days. We are calling it the ‘Blanche Porway Memorial Apartment’.
And now these two refugees’ stories – from different times in our history, from different countries and different faiths – will forever be connected. And therein lies the spark of hope in these troubled times.
RIP dear Blanche.
PS: (4/17/18) The “Blanche Porway Memorial Apt” was set up by KindWorks this past Saturday in the DC area, for a new Afghan refugee family. Blanche’s sofa will capture more stories, her art will bring more happiness, her china will celebrate more holidays – and may her indomitable spirit touch those who set up the apartment and all those who are blessed to know her story.