Lillian Shapiro 1928-1945

I never knew her.

She was Bill and Ida’s daughter, the younger sister of Herm. She was a bright energetic 16 year old in the hustle and bustle of New York City as World War II was coming to an end.

Her name was Lillian but everyone called her Libby.

I never knew her.

Libby went to high school, graduated, and began to attend secretarial school. Meanwhile being that it was the war Herm went into the army as so many other men did back then. A duty, an adventure, but he did what he could to avoid that heroic stuff because he had parents and a younger sister to come back to, people who were counting on him, the future of the family.

He was in England serving in the quartermaster corps. That means he outfitted the outfits who were at that moment racing across Europe to get to Berlin and kill off the remnants of the Nazi regime. It was February 1945.

I don’t know how he found out, whether it was a letter from the family or an order to see the commanding officer. Whatever the manner, he was soon on a transport back to New York, the product of a compassionate leave because his little sister had died.

I never knew her.

In the years that followed, her death became one of those family events rarely spoken of. She became the pain in the heart of her mother who died only two years later.  Herm would tell his oldest son that Libby died of stomach problems. He told his youngest son she died of tuberculosis. That was all he’d say about her death. About her he said even less. His younger son didn’t even know about her till he was in his teens. She was simply disappeared from the family.

That is why I never knew her.

Then a few years ago my older brother (the doctor) spent an afternoon at the New York City Hall of Records trying to get a copy of her death certificate. He wanted to find out if it was possible the stomach problem that lead to her death was related to a genetic disease his son was dealing with.

Instead he found the cause of death was listed as intraabdominal sepsis.  And while the family lived at that time in Brooklyn, she died in a hospital in Manhattan. She went to school in Brooklyn, she lived in Brooklyn, how was it she died in Manhattan? And why was the next of kin, and the person listed as having brought her to the hospital, the husband of her cousin who also lived in Brooklyn.

Intraabdominal sepsis. When I saw it on the death certificate there was only one thing that popped into my head. My brother (the doctor) was more restrained in his judgement. 40 years of medical practice makes one do that. Me, I’m the writer so I skip the less obvious answers and head straight to the most obvious.

She was the victim of a botched back alley abortion.

Done in by some friend of a friend of a friend who knows a guy who’s brother…you get the picture. It was the way it was done back in those days.

I have my suspicions as to how, why, and who was responsible for Libby ending up in that hospital, but they are not relevant at the moment.

What is relevant is that I never got to know my aunt. I never got to know the man she’d marry or play with her kids, my cousins, and grow up and bicker and squabble and get frustrated with them and they with me and that’s okay because that’s what family is all about because when you sit down for Passover Seder you sit as one around the table. Except that entire segment of my family was done away with in the inadvertent twitch of a wire coat hanger.

To the conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and to all of those who are anti-abortion (please don’t call them “pro-life”) I ask, whose family values are you “defending” by outlawing legal safe abortions? It sure isn’t my family’s. It sure isn’t the family’s of the millions of women who have had to make the gut wrenching choice to have an abortion in the past fifty years. It sure isn’t the family values of the overwhelming majority of Americans (80%!) who believe abortion should be legal, safe, and readily available.

No, it’s just the values of those who believe women are property to be owned and controlled by men, with no minds of their own or jurisdiction over their bodies. They are the ones who believe any woman who claims sovereignty over themselves needs to be taught her place. It’s the values of people who believe only they know the proper way to live and anyone who is the least bit different, who dares to believe in the other, must be shunned if not flat out done away with.

It’s the values of fascism, the thing Herm was helping to fight when his sister was murdered.

Oh and one last cosmic connection between my aunt and myself. She died on February 10, 1945. Thirteen years later to the day I’d be born.

Let’s go out with some music I’m sure a good Jewish girl from Brooklyn in 1945 would have been listening to.

Shapiro Out



3 thoughts on “Libby

  1. Thank you Mike for this sensitive and painful reminder of what it is to lose a loved one or anyone to a botched abortion. My body our selves!

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