5.24.2009

Hidden Strengths

Today my ma and I visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. Cause we like to take things nice & easy on vacation weekends. While neither of us were particularly impressed with the layout or the method in which they chose to convey their message, that's not what this post is about.

What could be a better day than Memorial Day to write a post about my Grandfather? My maternal Grandfather and I were never particularly close; in fact, he was the epitome of a curmudgeon (that's putting in nicely). But, I always find myself thinking of his life whenever the Holocaust is discussed...

At age nine my Grandfather moved to Bialystok, Poland to live with his grandparents after his parents, older sister and younger brother were killed in a robbery of the family's store.

He lived in Poland until he was 25. At that time, he attempted to leave Poland. For some reason the US official refused to let him on a boat. He was able to find a teacher who could write English. He paid this teacher to write a letter to President Roosevelt.

It cost him 5 dollars.

Not long after, somehow, a letter reached the same US official with very detailed instructions. We're not certain whether the letter was from the State Department or Roosevelt himself. The letter told the official he was to let my Grandfather, his brother, his brother's wife and their baby on the next boat.

When it came time to get on the boat, his brother's mother-in-law did not want them to leave. They decided to stay in Poland and wait it out.

As with many, we have no records of their death, but due to the proximity we assume that his brother, sister-in-law and nephew perished in Auschwitz.

At the time, with his departure eminent, my Grandfather came down with a fever. By sucking on ice cubes (we think for about a day or so) he was able to lower his temperature enough to get on the boat. That's how my Mother's family in the US was started.

After his arrival in the US, he lived with his sister in Chicago. He then enlisted in the Army so as to become an immediate citizen and not wait the standard 7 years. He was then deployed to the South Pacific where he contracted malaria which went undiagnosed and subsequently lost a kidney.

He then returned to Chicago where he worked in his brother-in-law's hardware store. He married my Grandmother, saved enough money and then opened his own store.

Whenever I think of his story (albeit, very annotated here), I am amazed by him.

I am amazed by the strength we all scarcely know we have.

6 comments:

Jo said...

I came by to leave snarky comments about yesterday's game, but that seems wildly inappropriate given the subject of your posting today. Your grandfather sounds like an amazing man! Thank you for sharing his (annotated) story.

Dysfunction Junction: said...

Jo: my evil plan is working!! Every time I feel a Red Wings comment coming on I post something poignant.

Be prepared: Game 5 will be babies & puppydogs.

Muahahaha...

LiLu said...

I never, ever, EVER get sick of incredible stories like that. Thank you so much for sharing this. You do a service to both your ancestors and those of us living who need a reminder as well.

Alice said...

damn. that's amazing. is the holocaust museum in IL good? the one in dc is amazing. i mean, amazingly depressing and awful, but there's no other way to adequately address the holocaust, methinks.

Dysfunction Junction: said...

Alice: no, in fact I was VERY umimpressed. I love the one in DC and this one seemed very sterile & emotionless. The DC one melds history & hysterics so well.

And now I have a FANTASTIC reason to come and see it. A visit to my internets friend (who my mother is concerned may be an axe-murderess).

Alice said...

AH HAAAAAHH now the axe-murdering thing makes sense.

dear mrs makarlin: i have, like, hardly ever murdered people with axes. pinky swear.