Tag Archives: World War 1

Rediscovering A Talk With My Husband’s Aunt (Part 1)

1 Apr

Cleaning out my house as we prepare to move has brought me several treasures.  One I have been looking for over the last few months, as my husband’s family had planned a family reunion in June, which has since been cancelled.  But what I was looking for finally turned up in a file cabinet drawer.

Over 30 years ago, I sat down with my husband’s Aunt Matt, who was his mother’s sister.  My husband’s Mom died of lung cancer when she was only 59.  After my daughter was born, I felt truly sad that she would never hear stories about her grandmother’s family.  So I asked Aunt Matt if she would be the substitute. She was delighted!

We used to spend a long weekend each March at the Lake of the Ozarks with Aunt Matt and her husband, Uncle Stan, in a time share they had.  This was the perfect opportunity.  My husband and his uncle took my daughter fishing, while Aunt Matt and I talked about her life in Leavenworth and Wichita, Kansas, and I recorded her words.

Aunt Matt, whose real name was Marie, was filled with love for her parents and her nine siblings.  Her father, Leon, was from Romania.  He had both a law degree and a medical degree.  After college, at Sorbonne, he went to England where he met his wife, Esther. She was just 15 when they married.  (See blogs below about their marriage) Leon spoke 7 languages!

Esther and Leon

They first lived in London where the first three children were born: Molly, Joe and Jean.  They came to North America in 1912.   I understand that they came through Canada.   They first settled in New Orleans, where Leon taught at Tulane University.   (I had never heard this before!)

During the First World War, Leon entered the United States Army, where he became a colonel.  He stayed an extra year in Europe as he was put in charge of the exchange of prisoners.  (There is actually a photo of him with prisoners that one of my husband’s cousins owns.) 

Colonel Leon M.

While he was in Europe, his young family lived in Brooklyn with family. Aunt Matt said with their grandparents.  (I do know that Esther’s had family in NY. But I thought it was her brother.).  When he finally got back to the USA, the family moved to Pennsylvania, where Colonel Leon was in charge of a military hospital.  They lived in a home belonging to a family that gave it to the Army to use.  It was just 100 steps from the hospital.

Somewhere along the way, from Tulane, to Wichita for a bit, to Pennsylvania, four more children were born: Marie, Fred, Florence (Toots) and Ben (Bubsy).  When Leon was finally discharged and left active duty, he moved his family to Wichita, Kansas. Aunt Matt had no idea why they moved. (The names in parenthesis are family nicknames.)

The next baby, Leona ”Lee”  (Bubbles) was born in Wichita.  Her birth in 1925 was almost exactly one year after the oldest daughter, Molly, died while attending college in New York.  Bubble’s middle name, May, was for her sister.  This baby was important in my family, as she was my husband’s mother.  Aunt Matt said, “Lee was a born one year and two days after Molly died of pneumonia in 1924 while at Columbia University, where she was studying art.”

Lee was the only child born in Wichita.   While there, Leon had a private practice. But he was also part of a group that founded the first free clinic.  The St. Francis Free Dispensary was founding in 1922.

Aunt Matt did not know why the family moved once again to Leavenworth, Kansas. But they did sometime before 1927, because the last two children, Barbara and Richard were born when they lived in Leavenworth.  Leon had a private practice their specializing in OB/BYN and Surgery.  

Life changed for them after just a few years after moving to Leavenworth. When the youngest, Richard, was just two years old, their mother, Esther, died.  Aunt Matt was in college then.  She was told that her mother died of pneumonia.  But we know she died in childbirth.  (See blog below.)

This blog covers the first three pages of 17 pages of notes. The next ones will discuss the time in Leavenworth, Kansas.





If you read these other blogs, you will find slightly different stories. We all have the stories our parent’s told us. With ten siblings ranging about 25 years apart in age, different grandchildren of Leon and Esther, were told slightly different stories. OR had slightly different memories. These are Aunt Matt’s memories.

Museums Help Me Honor Our Relatives Who Served on Veterans’ Day

10 Nov

On November 11, every year I go over to the Korean War Memorial that was established just about a mile from my home. Years ago I put a stone in the memorial for my Dad who served in Korea as a forward observer.

A portion of the Korean War Memorial in Kansas.

A portion of the Korean War Memorial in Kansas.

The truth is my Dad loved military history. He loved reading about the Civil War, World War 1 and World War 2. I have visited many museums just to see them and to think about my Dad. In Kansas City we are fortunate to have the National World War One Museum and Liberty Memorial. It was remodeled over five years ago. My husband and I went to check it out to see if my Dad would be able to navigate its halls and exhibits. We thought he would love it. Unfortunately my Dad passed away before we could take him there.

We are also fortunate to have two presidential libraries nearby that also speak about our country’s efforts in war. We have been to the President Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, and the Eisenhower Library in Salina, Kansas.  Both have significant information about the Second World War and dedicate a portion of the libraries to the presidents involvement and service.

About 14 years ago I went to the National World War Two Museum in New Orleans. I took my children with me; they were then 15 and 11. We walked through the entire exhibit. That day there was a special ceremony in the lobby as veterans were being presented awards. The entire time we were there, we spoke about how much Grandpa would love this museum! I bought my Dad a book and some other memorabilia from the museum. I know he wanted to see it one day.

We also visited a small Civil War museum in New Orleans, called the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum. It has been a part of New Orleans since 1891. This small museum supposedly houses the second largest collection of Civil War items. Dad would have loved it as well.

I have been to Hawaii and visited the USS Arizona Memorial and seen the droplets of oil floating to the surface of Pearl Harbor, like droplets of tears still escaping. I have walked through the USS Missouri and saw the spot where the treaty that ended the Pacific War was signed.

I have visited military cemeteries: Arlington National Cemetery, The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, and the Ft. Leavenworth National Cemetery. I have seen my father buried with full military honors including a flag-draped coffin, the folding and presentation of the flag and a serviceman on the bugle playing Taps.

The Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

The Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.

This weekend in my continued efforts to honor veterans and their service, I spent a day in Fredericksburg, Texas. I was in San Antonio for a meeting with my husband. A good friend picked me up from the hotel for this field trip to the National Museum of the Pacific War. Who knew it even existed! We wandered through the halls and learned about what was happening in China and Japan that led to their entrance into the war. We saw planes and submarines.   A replica of the atomic bomb hangs from one of the ceilings.

I saw information about Manila and the infamous Bataan Death March. That stands out in my memory as my husband’s Aunt Grace was one of the nurses in Bataan. She was one of the few who were evacuated from the island on a submarine and so did not have to suffer through the march and the horrible internment. I was able to show my friend the book, We Band of Angels, which features two pictures of Aunt Grace in group photos.

The walkway memorial to presidents.

The walkway memorial to presidents.

We then walked through a memorial to our country’s presidents to the Nimitz Hotel founded by the family of Admiral Chester Nimitz. It is now a museum honoring his memory and his work as the Admiral of the Pacific Fleet. I believe I honored those who serve by visiting these museums.

And always on Veterans’ Day I think of my Dad, who served in Korea. My Uncles Bernie and Stanley who served in World War Two; My husband’s Uncles Ben and Fred who were military physicians in World War Two; His Uncle Richard who served in Korea; and his Aunt Grace and Aunt Florence who were nurses in World War Two. My husband’s grandfather served in World War 1. And not to leave anyone out, I also think of my husband’s and my cousins who served in all of these wars including Vietnam.

Museums do not tell the full story. They cannot transmit the heartache that follows a person throughout their life because of the things they saw, the odors they smelt, the lives that were lost and the changes it caused in their psyche. But for me to visit these museums, I feel I am showing respect for the sacrifices these veterans made for all of us. I am proud there are so many veterans in our family!

How World War I Saved My Family or My Grandpa Was A Draft Dodger

25 Jun

World War I changed the world! One hundred years ago, Europe became a place of desolation and devastation. Young men from both sides were killed. Millions perished. From all I have read, it was horrible. The use of gases so horrific that laws were later passed banning the use of these and all future chemical weapons. We know that sometimes they are still used. But the world peoples are united against them.

For my family, World War I actually saved my branch of a family. My Grandpa Nat, you see, was a draft dodger.   As he would explain it to me, Jews in Galicia did not really have a chance in the military. They were often put in the worst positions, meant to die. And if they survived, they were conscripted for 25 years. So they never were able to live a Jewish life or return to their families again.

In 1918, when my Grandpa was about 18, his life changed; he received the dreaded notice that he was to report for military duty. It sent his family into action. Nissan, as he was known in Europe, had to be smuggled out of Galicia to save his life.

Thus began my Grandpa’s two-year journey to salvation and survival. He left his home in the middle of the night with just those things he could carry and wear. His intention was to get to British Mandate of Palestine and join the efforts to create a Jewish homeland. But his first goal was to get to his cousins in Belgium.

He wandered through Europe during the battles of 1918 and the aftermath of the war. Slowly making his way to Belgium. He had no real passport. Instead he was using the passport of a dead cousin.

Eventually he made it to Belgium and his cousins. Their reaction to his wish to travel to Palestine was, “Why go to Palestine? It is a desert! Go to the United States, to the Golden Medina. You have an Uncle there. He will help.”

So my Grandpa contacted his Uncle Julius, known as Uncle Yidel to us all, his mother’s brother. Uncle Yidel agreed to sponsor Grandpa to the United States.  But he had one problem, he had been robbed along the way and had to work to earn the money to pay for his trip to the United States.  But finally, after about nine months, the last leg of his journey began. Fortunately for him, his uncle did sponsor him, because when he arrived in the port of New York City, and the immigration site of Ellis Island, he had just a nickel. Without a sponsor he would have been sent back to Europe.

Grandpa often would tell us that we could be whatever we wanted to be. “Look at me,” he would say. “I came to this country with just a nickel in my pocket. And look at what I have.” So we learned early on not to complain to Grandpa and to never give up!

I tried finding my Grandpa’s immigration information from the Ellis Island sites, but could find nothing. My Grandma’s was easy to find. So I often wonder what that passport actually said. And how old he was supposed to be? But in 1920, immigration procedures were not as intense and documentation was not as precise as it is now.

Tanta Molly and Uncle Yidel

Tanta Molly and Uncle Yidel

Uncle Yidel and his wife, Tanta Molly (also known as Malchik)  welcomed Grandpa.

Growing up in Europe, my Grandpa had been a yeshiva brocha, a student of Torah. He had a beautiful singing voice, and perhaps might have been a cantor. But instead, somewhere along the way, he learned to be a baker. When he first came to New York, he worked two jobs. One as a butcher, the other as a baker.  But it is as a baker that he prospered in America. He and Uncle Yidel started a bakery eventually owning a building in New York City. (My Grandma told me that when Grandpa proposed he told her he had a place. She thought he rented an apartment. She did not realize he owned the building!)


Grandpa in his bakery in West New York, New Jersey, 1942.

Grandpa in his bakery in West New York, New Jersey, 1942.

They separated the business after my grandparents married, and Grandpa and Grandma opened a new bakery in Linden, New Jersey.  But in the early 1930s, when my grandmother took their children to Europe for six months, Grandpa sold the bakery in Linden and opened a new bakery in West New York, New Jersey.  He kept this bakery for over 35 years.

Grandpa had many cousins in the United States. His parents were first cousins. So he was double cousins to many of the family. They helped him settle in. But Uncle Yidel was the most important. Uncle Yidel and Tanta Molly were always a part of our lives. They had one son, Ezra.

Whenever we went to see them, we were welcomed in Yiddish. Tanta Molly would come running out to hug us. She would call out our Jewish names: “ Tovaleh, Fagaleh, Chavaleh!” I asked my Mom, “Why does she put an ‘aleh’ on all our names?”

“It means little,” my Mom replied. “Well that did not make sense, Tanta Molly is littler than us!” Was my response. “It means she loves us,” Mom laughed as she said that. Later I found out the ‘aleh’ did mean little, but really was an endearment.

My Grandpa always missed the hills of Galicia. He often told me that he bought his property in the Catskills because it made him think of his home and his childhood. Many years latter when I traveled to that part of Europe, I saw he was right. The rolling, low mountains and hills do look like the Catskills.

My Grandpa forever missed his family. World War I did save him. He came to the United States. But his parents, siblings, and many aunts/ uncles/cousins stayed in Galicia. They all perished in the Shoah.

My Grandpa Nat was a draft dodger, but he never stopped fighting for the right to practice his beliefs and to protect his family in the USA. He loved America. He never traveled outside of the United States. When asked, his reply was always:

“Why would I ever want to leave here? It is the best place in the world.”