About twenty years ago my grandfather was ninety and I had never heard the full story of how he came to the U.S. My dad had told me some of the saga but he did not know the whole story. I let my parents know how much hearing the full story from Grandpa’s mouth meant to me and we took a plane to West Palm Beach (no big surprise on that location for a former NY Jew) with video camera in hand (massive thing compared to current technology).
Grandpa Phil cried for much of the telling of the tale. Jewish and living in Latvia he left as the Nazis were coming into power. He snuck on a ship with the help of an aunt and managed to get to Mexico where he found a community of Jews who took him in until he entered the U.S. and eventually got a job driving a subway train in New York City. Along the way he received postcards and letters from his parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles; he showed them to me as he had them stowed in a shoebox my father had never even seen. Actually, my father had never heard most of the actual story. At some point all the letters stopped and Grandpa Phil never saw any of his parents or siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles again. They had been wiped out along with the rest of the Jewish village during the war. He lived with this pain until the end of his life and seeing his children and grandkids grow up meant so much to him.
I am so grateful for the risks Grandpa Phil took to allow our family to flourish and grow once again and so very thankful that I took the time to hear him tell me the story himself. The video is priceless to me and my family as my own children can hear the man they barely knew (or never met) tell the history in his own words.
Thanks Grandpa Phil.
I strongly encourage every family to document their story for future generations. The lessons learned are invaluable. Many of us are fortunate to have a very comfortable life here in America and stories from those who survived hardships to plant our families here give context and depth to those who have avoided really tough struggles and live easier lives thanks to the risks taken and perseverance demonstrated by those before us.
Around Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season, it is so common to read about the importance of giving thanks and helping those who are less fortunate. I volunteer regularly (all year long) at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen in Trenton, NJ. This time of year the numbers of volunteers swell to huge numbers and then they die down again in January. Please keep in mind that while all volunteering is important and is a great way to help the rising generation place their own families’ successes in perspective, there is so much needed the rest of the year. Consider giving your time in March or July or October when volunteers are hard to come by.
I am thankful to be surrounded by wonderful family, friends and professional colleagues.
My best to you all!