Before i left for Asia, i worked a batmitzvah at the restaurant, and had one of the stranger experiences of my entire life. Over the course of the evening, i had met the party hosts, and had spent some time talking them and we’d established a pretty solid relationship throughout the party. At the end of the night, the father who was organizing the party called me over, and said “I’ve got a problem.” I was rather unsure on how to respond to this so just said something along the lines of “Well, hopefully i’ve got a solution!” but he continued on uncomfortably saying he wasn’t sure how to phrase it, and then just says “I would like to hire you.” I was all sorts of confused till he told me he wanted to hire me to push his mother home, 4 blocks away in Chevy Chase. Of course i happily agreed to help out, and that’s when things got interesting.
The lady i had the pleasure of walking home was named Anya. When i first glanced at her, to be honest i thought she was just another crazy old lady, but my gosh was i wrong. Anya turned out to be one of the most interesting Human beings i’ve ever met! As i began to push her towards her home, she started telling me her fascinating life story. On a side note, i had never actually pushed anyone home in a wheelchair, and it is significantly more difficult than i had anticipated. Also, while pushing her, when going down sidewalk ramps she could not go down them facing forward as her legs would hurt, so i would have to turn the wheelchair around and walk backwards into the street, straighten up in the middle of the street to walk forward in the crosswalk, and then turn around and walk backwards as i walk up the ramp again. Was rather amusing and irritating all at once as we ended up having to cross like 10 streets haha.
Anyways, she told me that she spoke 14 (Yes, FOURTEEN) different languages, and taught 9 of them for 38 years at AU and Georgetown University! She told me that she was from Poland, and that her parents were extremely successful fashion designers back in the day, who used to attend fashion shows in London and Paris, etc. and they even had a 7 story building. The problem was, that since they were wealthy and Jewish, when WWII was starting, her parents were accused of being spies and sent to Kazakhstan. As a result, 3 of her 6 siblings were born in different countries, and she said that while they kept moving around, for whatever reason wherever they went she would just immediately pick up the language.
At this point, i was already amazed by this women’s life story…but then she dropped another bomb on me. She said that along with languages, her other passion was saying. When i asked her if she used to sing, she said that she used to perform and sing opera at famous places such as Carnegie Hall, but only did so for charitable causes. It gets better/weirder.
In what has to be one of the strangest moments of my life, she then proceeds to tell me that she actually still sings, and then goes “Ok, now i’m going to sing you a couple verses of a Polish Opera song.” Without hesitation, she starts belting out opera with an incredible vocal range in the middle of Wisconsin Ave in Polish, and i had no clue what was going on haha. We walked by a couple dudes around my age, who were at the atm and their looks of shock and confusion were absolutely hilarious.
To be fair, it was quite a sight to see. A 20 year old indian boy, dressed in all black who could have been coming back from a funeral, pushing an 85 year old Jewish women in a wheelchair who was singing Opera in Polish; all while i’m doing the ridiculous forward, backwards, forward dance i was required to do at cross walks. After a couple minutes, she finally stops singing and goes “that was just a couple of verses,” and i figured the strangeness had passed. I was wrong again. Anya then decided that she wanted to sing me another song in Spanish (She learned Spanish just so that she could sing in it..) and sang that all the way back to her apartment complex.
I had to take her all the way inside of her home, and she seemed like she wanted me to stay for a bit to chat and so she continued to elaborate on her fascinating life for a bit.
Anya in her home!
At the end of the day, was one of the most unusual, and interesting things that has ever happened to me and i’m so glad i had the opportunity to get to know such an incredible person. I feel kind of blessed to have gotten the opportunity to talk to her about her life, as there are not many other Holocaust survivors alive and well enough to recount their tales, and i know that our children will never have a chance to have such an experience, so really appreciated the moment.
Thank you Anya!