Tag Archives: World War 2

This Jacket is a Survivor!

20 May

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I am cleaning out my cedar chest.  I had no idea what was piled up inside.  But surprises keep coming! My biggest surprise find was a jacket belonging to my mother.  I honestly forgot it was there.  I thought I had lost it in my many moves years ago.  But here it is:  A grayish brown wool jacket.  It is definitely from the late 1940s/early 1950s in both style and by history.

This is not just any jacket.  It was made by my mother’s uncles.  I am not sure which one, either David or Isaac.  They survived the Shoah because they were tailors.  When they escaped Poland they headed into Russia, where I am told they worked making soldiers’ uniforms.  I have no proof of this. But that is the story I was told.

After the war, they ended up in Italy first, where they waited for papers.  My uncles had my grandmother and another sister in the United States.  My aunts had relatives, sisters I think, in Australia.  They decided they would go to live in whatever country and near whoever sent visas first.  They just wanted out of Europe and away from fear.

The visas came from Australia.  So they went to Melbourne.  This jacket was made by my uncles in Melbourne after they settled there and sent to my mother in the United States.  Can you image? I can’t.

I know they were in contact throughout their journey of survival.   I know that my grandmother and aunt tried to get them visas to the USA and sent them money to survive after the war.

I know that they helped to support them throughout their lives.  My Uncle David died when he was in his late 30s in Australia.  He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Melbourne.  Eventually the survivors, my Uncle Isaac, his wife Bronia and, David’s widow, Rosa moved to Israel with my cousin, where she still lives with her family.

When they moved to Israel, we sent care packages to them.  It was 1965 or 1966.  I still remember when I was 11 learning about my cousin. We became pen pals, writing back and forth for many years.  We still keep in contact, but now through What’s Ap and Facebook.

The year (1974-75) I studied at Hebrew University in Israel, I would spend time with my family, my uncle, aunts and cousin in Kiriat Haim, which is just north of Haifa.   During one visit, Uncle Isaac surprised me with a bag to carry my school supplies when I traveled from Jerusalem to visit family.  He also made me a pillow to decorate my room.  I was a great bag for that as it was the perfect size with a zipper.  And no one else had anything like.  I actually used it to go to class.  I still have both of these items.

After my return from Israel, my mother gave the jacket to me.  It longer fit her and she thought I would wear it.   Since I spent so much time with my family in Israel, the jacket carried so many emotions with it.  When I was younger, I would wear the jacket and think of all my great uncles and aunts went through during the war.  How they survived the war and got out of Europe.  It is a jacket of survival and strength in my mind.

So I guess I will continue to keep this jacket.  It has a few moth-eaten areas.  The color has faded.  But to me, its symbol of survival and new lives makes it so valuable.  It tells me to never give up.  To survive and be a survivor.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2016/10/01/the-rosh-hashannah-card-has-a-story/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

 

Holding My Grandparent’s Naturalization Papers Overwhelms Me

23 May

 

imageI have a small leather case that is inscribed with the words Certificate of Citizenship.  Enclosed are my grandparents naturalization papers that change them from immigrants to citizens.

I hold the papers in my hands and I wonder what my grandparents were thinking. Here are the legal documents that made them naturalized citizens of the United States of America. They were no longer Polish citizens. They were free of the past, or were they?

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One paper is 84 years old.   My Grandmother became an American in 1932. She was 27 years old. I know she had just returned from a trip to Europe to regain her health and see her family and my grandfather’s family. She took her two small children, my mother and my uncle, with her for six months in Poland. And then she came home, a changed woman with a mission. Get as many family members out of Europe as possible.   Grandma was smart. She saw the coming tide of Hitler and his anti-Semitism. What would she think now with the new rise of hatred and xenophobia throughout the world?

The seal encompasses her photo. Her certificate has a small burn in it. The paper was folded when it happened. I can see my grandfather smoking a cigarette with an ash hanging off as it falls on the papers. I know my grandmother must have been furious. It looks like that type of burn to me. I am glad that my children have never seen a cigarette burn. When my father and grandfather smoked, papers often got singed.   But by the time my children were born, there were no more smokers in my family.

There on her paper is a space for Race. It says Hebrew. I wonder if she worried about that word on her papers? They were not yet putting yellow stars on Jews when she was in Europe. Even though she was worried, perhaps, being here made her feel safe enough. The good news is that 11 years later, when my grandfather became a citizen, there was no longer a space for Race. This item was removed from the naturalization papers. It makes me happy to see this change.

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I wonder why Grandpa waited so long? He came to the USA in 1920. Did he originally think he would go back one day? Maybe. But the war probably changed his mind. He became a citizen in the midst of World War II — the war that destroyed his family. The war that murdered his parents and his siblings, his nieces and his nephews, his aunts and uncles, his cousins and his friends. Almost all perished. He did not yet officially know this in 1943. But perhaps he knew, since all letters stopped coming and there was no more contact with his family. It was not till after the war that he knew they had all died.

On this paper I see my grandparents’ signatures. I usually did not see it. To me Grandma only signed all letters Love, Grandma Thelma. Grandpa never wrote letters. In his later years, he forgot how to write his name in English. He only remembered how to write it in Hebrew. But here I see his signature. It gives me a thrill to see these names on these certificates.

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On the back of Grandpa’s certificate of naturalization is an additional note. It was when he became an official citizen that he legally changed his name from Nisson to Nathan. He put away his Yiddish/Hebrew name and moved to an English name. This is the name I gave my son. Nissan, Nathan. He was born 11 months after Grandpa died. It seemed right that he should have his name.

By the time Grandpa became a citizen they had moved to the home they lived in for over 30 years. This was the location of their bakery in West New York, New Jersey. A home and a bakery where I spent many hours and enjoyed so much love. The same address where I spent the first three years of my life. Where my parents spent the first six years of their married life.

When I hold my grandparents’ citizenship papers I am overwhelmed. Because they moved here and left their homes when they were so young, 18 and 16, I am alive. Because they made a conscious choice my children have freedom. Because they were able to immigrate to the United States, we live in freedom.

I hope the United States will continue to be a beacon of light to immigrants throughout the world, as it was for my grandparents.

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/how-world-war-i-saved-my-family-or-my-grandpa-was-a-draft-dodger/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/i-believe-mystically-and-magically-great-grandma-chava-watches-over-me/

 

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/grandma-thelma-knows-what-she-knows/

 

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-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!

Old Photographs Bring Memories to Life

19 Aug

My siblings and I recently spent a weekend together cleaning the attic, basement and garage of a house in the Catskills that our family has owned for well over 50 years.   And although our parents made an effort to clean out some of our grandparents’ items when they inherited it, it still was quite full.

It has been a process. This was our final weekend of cleaning. My brother with some help from his son and a friend, had already moved out the old metal bungalow furniture and moved in furniture from our parent’s apartment.

We had cleaned out clothing and personal items. We had moved out some items that we wanted in our respective homes. But now it was time to get rid of the stuff that had just collected and decayed over time.

My brother ordered a 20-cubit yard dumpster that he demanded be filled by the end of the weekend. My sister and I thought he was crazy. There was no way we would have that much junk. We were wrong. And it was, amazingly, filled. The house is now in order. Clean, organized and ready for us to use it. We had a feeling of accomplishment by the time we were done.

Two of my nieces were there as well. And the four women, my sister and my nieces and I did the heavy emotional work, we went through thousands upon thousands of photos. We sorted them for each family. We made piles for our cousins. There were some we just discarded and put into the dumpster. And then we put together the ones we all wanted for me to take home and scan into my computer, for I am the family archivist. I will make digital copies and send them out to everyone.

Front Great grandpa USA Visa

The treasures we found included our great grandfather’s passport and 1936 visa to come to the USA from Poland. Our grandparents worked diligently to get the paper work accomplished to bring him and my great aunt to the USA. It saved their lives. My Mom would tell the story of going to Ellis Island with my grandparents to get them when they arrived from Poland.

Years later, when my children were little, we went with my parents to Ellis Island. My Mom asked, “Where are all the cages?” The main room was a large empty space. But on the wall were photos of what the room looked like in the days it was in use. And the metal bars between lines of people could have looked like cages to a child. We think that is what she saw.

In the bags and albums, we found photos of people in Europe from before the Shoah. And wondered how many of them perished? We found photos of our great aunt Tova and our great grandmother Chava. Photos we had never seen before. Our great grandmother is young in this photo. My brother and niece have her mouth. We know they both perished, along with many other family members.

Photos of our parents taken in Hudson County Park, North Bergen, NJ, in the 1960s were also a rare find. They were dressed up, obviously ready to go out somewhere. Mom even had white gloves on… white gloves and a sort of ‘mini’ skirt: an interesting combination; a transition between two generations, two styles of dress. There are no full skirts here.

We found pictures of our aunts and uncles from both sides of our family, grandparents, great aunts and uncles; photos of us and our cousins when we were little. They were wonderful finds. We even found three photos taken during the Woodstock weekend in 1969. We thought all of them had been lost years ago when my Dad tried to mail them to me and the envelope broke while in route.

My nieces loved one photo in particular, of my brother, sister and I when we were in our teens. We hate it. But the girls wanted to keep it as ‘blackmail.’

We found wonderful documents: the list from our parent’s wedding; some of Dad’s school papers, and his army paper, a telegram he sent his parents from the army. One of his school papers said he was in the choir in high school. We all laughed, Dad could not carry a tune!

Grandma Thelma graduation from night school she is second in middle row

A favorite was group photo of our Grandma with the other students, when she graduated from night school, after immigrating to the USA in the 1920s.

The attic held a bonanza of information! We actually thought we had found it all because previous cleanings we had found 8mm movies that my brother had turned into DVDs and other photos that I had used to make a book of family history.

But the most amazing find was a photo album of my grandmother from before her marriage. There was one young woman in many of the photos with Grandma. We were sure it was her best friend and cousin, Katie. But there were no names written on any photo. It was so frustrating. But then we found a more recent photo with my grandparents and another couple. In this one the woman was identified. And yes it was Katie. My sister and I were so excited!! When we compared her face to the young women in the photos we knew that we had discovered and identified our lost relative.

There are many photos in the album that were taken in Europe. On the back many are inscribed to my loving cousin, Tova, in Yiddish and in German. I think they are photos given to her before she left Poland for the United States in 1922.

I have that album with me now. I am going to try to match some of the unnamed people with photos that we have where people are identified. I have already found photos of my grandmother’s siblings.

It is a puzzle, and I am determined to make as many matches as possible because these old photographs bring my grandparents’ and parents’ memories back to life.