My Grandfather: His Life and My History

As a child, I loved visiting my grandparents in Brooklyn. My grandfather was a very artistic man and I spent most of my time doing projects with him. We ate homemade soup my grandmother made and took walks on the dock. To this day, when I see a pigeon I’ll run and chase it, just like I did when I was younger to make my grandparents smile. I did not get much time with my grandmother Jean; she passed away when I was just 8 years old. My grandfather, Arnold, passed away in December 2003 at the age of 90. He was a wonderful man and survived the Holocaust.

If my mother did not tell me what little she knew, I would never have known that he did. He never spoke about it. Neither did his brother, also a survivor. I only have a little information he told me in 2000 shortly before he passed away.  In high school, I traveled to Europe. My grandfather was happy that I had the chance to visit Germany, even if it was only for a few days. While there, we visited Dachau. My mother made me take out the pictures of Dachau when I showed my grandfather the photo album of my trip and told me not to tell him I was there. She didn’t want to upset him.

My grandfather was born on October 1, 1913 in Berlin, Germany to Josef (January 23, 1880 – 1943) and Tauba (April 18, 1885 – 1943), the second of five children. His parents and older sister, Fay (whom I am named after), were born in Poland. They had moved to Germany before my grandfather was born but kept their Polish citizenship. His younger sister and brothers were also born in Germany.

Although the family was poor, his family was close. They had many friends and enjoyed their time together. My great-grand father, Josef, was a tailor; my great-grandmother, Tauba, was a wig maker. My grandfather attended a Jewish school for boys from 1919 – 1928. He was active in sports and belonged to a Jewish sports club. He enjoyed running and boxing. After finishing school, he worked in a machine shop as a machinist and then became a furrier. He worked as a furrier in Germany until 1938.

As Polish Jews living in Germany, they decided to stay during World War II. In 1938, things turned in Germany. Many Jews fled Germany and because my grandfather was  machinist, he was able to escape. He left for Bogota, Columbia by himself and stayed there by himself until 1940. He then migrated to the United States to live with his sister, Fay, who was married and living in New York. My grandfather later married and had two children.

By 1937, his sister Fay was already married. She was able to leave Germany with the help of friends already living in the United States. Nathan was my grandfather’s youngest brother. He hitchhiked to Italy, Greece, Turkey, and then Israel which was under Great Britain’s rule. Nathan came to the United States in 1951. He married in 1953 and also had two children.

My grandfather, his sister Fay, and brother Nathan were the only ones to survive. His parents, sister Lena (September 1915 – 1943) and brother Eric (October 1911 – 1943) died in 1943. I’ve been told they were at Auschwitz. Many of their records and belongings were destroyed. I am still doing research to learn more about their lives before, during and after the war. Like my grandfather, Nathan did not speak about his life before the War. His son said it was a way to protect himself and his family from the horrors they endured.

April is Genocide Awareness Month and April 24 is Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day). For me, it is more than the six million Jews killed. It is for all who lived during that time period. All who escaped. All who risked their own life to hide, protect, and help others escape. All who liberated the camps. All who survived and gave birth to the next generation, and the next. My older son is named after my husband’s grandfather who served in World War II but is also the name of my great-grandfather. Even though my mother and I never met him, he is remembered. My youngest son looks more like a Johnson, but he has the bluest eyes and light hair just like my grandfather Arnold, the man he is named after. In my children, live on the memory of our grandparents and my children will carry on the next chapter of our history.

I hope our grandparents can see the joy my boys bring our family and how deeply they are missed because we remember them every day.

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One thought on “My Grandfather: His Life and My History

  1. Pingback: The Next Generation – History With Mrs. Johnson

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