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Story Archives

Return Story

Shawn Landres

“Why would you go back?” asked my Austro-Hungarian-born grandmother in 1994, when I announced I would be spending the summer in the former Czechoslovakia. She had never looked behind her after fleeing Bratislava in 1940, first to Italy, then traveling across continents to Sydney, then Los Angeles, where I was born.

“We knew you would come back,” said my wife’s grandfather as Zuzana and I prepared for our 2001 chuppah in Košice, Slovakia, her hometown. He had always looked forward; a Jewish surgeon under state socialism, he had moved his family from Prešov to Bardejov to Košice, no one city more than 80 km from another.

“Why would you want to come back?” asked the ministry official as I reclaimed my Slovak citizenship, in the name of my forebears whom the wartime Slovak state had disenfranchised, dispossessed, and deported. By right, I replied, and the only restitution that mattered to me: the acknowledgment that my multinational, multilingual family had always belonged here, and that this new Slovak Republic was the heir not to fascist chaos but to cosmopolitan “civitas.”

The guns of August, first sounded 100 years ago this summer, resonate across the generations. Empires disaggregated, nation-states pronounced and divorced. To the different roots of our children’s family tree, the changing seasons brought wealth and poverty, death and life, love and loss. There were those who migrated and those who remained. We, their descendants, have recovered, rediscovered…returned.

Of course there is no undoing the past century. But for our family—for me—I am not so sure that there is no going back. The United States, unquestionably, is my home. But today we also are at home in Slovakia. The art of return? It is dance—a round—always in motion, ever unbroken.
 

What are the things in your life that you would like to return to?

[From Jewels of Elul: jewelsofelul.com]