Category Archives: My Family

Remembering my grandfather

Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. I’ve mentioned him before on this blog in my post Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet?. Although we lived in the same city for only a few years we were very close and I spoke to him every week. As I flew to the US to attend his funeral, I wrote the following. It is exactly my thoughts as I sat in the airplane heading to say goodbye to my grandfather.

    Almost exactly 34 years ago my grandmother passed away. As a young child I didn’t fully comprehend what that meant. It was traumatic for me at the time, not understanding death, but moreover it was the intense sadness in my father that I think affected me. I didn’t get to know her well, although I have fleeting memories of her, more emotion than memory.

    Yesterday, my grandparents were finally reunited. At 98 my grandfather lived what by any standard is a long and full life. Having had the intervening years with my grandfather, of course I knew him considerably better than I did my grandmother. After college I lived in the same city as him for several years, and although I now live in a different country, he was always one of the people I made sure to visit when I was in town.

    My grandfather had a special connection to my oldest child, now the age I was when my grandmother passed away. It’s not the same, a great-grandparent compared to a grandparent, of course. She didn’t know him like she knows my parents, or my wife’s parents, but I like to think she knew he had a special place in his heart for her. We called him every week, and while he was happy to speak to my wife and I, he always seemed to light up when he spoke to his ‘little princess’. My younger children will likely not remember my grandfather, but I like to think my oldest will in some way remember him, more perhaps than the fleeting memories I have of my grandmother.

    Technology will help in some regard there, as I’ve been able to document the connection between them, with photos and videos that I’ve shot over the years. In some respect, my interest in photography and videography comes from my grandfather. Just like he lugged a camera loaded with Kodachrome and either a 16mm or an 8mm film camera around with him, I am usually not without similar, if a bit more modern, equipment. Just as he recorded moments from the 1940s through the 1970s, illustrating the youth and vibrancy of my grandparents and extended family, so I hope my own recordings more than half a century later will help my children and grandchildren understand what our lives were like, and the connections we shared between family.

    So to my grandfather, Yaakov Mordechai ben Moshe Tzvi, and my grandmother Lipka bat Chaim, now united once more, I offer the old Jewish prayer – may your names be remembered as blessings.

    jackandlilyrowboat

Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet?

My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria during World War I. His family had fled their homes in Galicia, then a region of Austria, and fled to the capital city to avoid the invading Russian army. His brothers, one born before him in 1911, and one after him in 1921, were both born in the Galician town of Rzeszow, known in Yiddish as Reisha.

In 1927 the family moved to Antwerp, Belgium, seeking a better life and perhaps more stable situation. As I’ve written about before, Antwerp and Belgium in general received many many Jewish immigrants during the interwar years, among them my family (my grandfather’s future wife also made her way around the same time to Antwerp from Rzeszow).

In 1927 my grandfather was of course 12 years old, and he lived in Antwerp until 1940, when he was 25. Those were, no doubt, formative years for him. I know many stories about his time there, and have found documents hinting at others in the Police des Étrangers files I’ve found. I know just a couple of years after he arrived, after his father died, he ran a watch shop near the docks of the Antwerp port, helping support his family even though he was only 14 at the time. I know he used his US citizenship to travel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and helped younger cousins get out of the country, as the Germans still respected a US passport (they probably hoped the US would side with them in the upcoming war). One thing I don’t really know about, however, is what kind of social life he had. Some years ago he told me he bumped into an elementary school classmate of his from Belgium in New York, and he had recognized my grandfather even all those years later. He later sent my grandfather a class photo showing both of them. When researching family we sometimes forget that our relatives spent much of their time, especially when they were teenagers and young adults, with their friends instead of their family. It’s part of what defined them and made them who they were.

In this light, some recent photographs I discovered at my grandfather’s apartment are particularly interesting. I have no idea who anyone in the photos are other than my grandfather. If you had relatives born during WWI and who lived in Antwerp in the 1930s, perhaps they’re among the people in these photos.

My grandfather is sitting on the bottom right

 

My grandfather in the middle with the white shirt

 

My grandfather isn’t in this photo, but it was together with the others

 

My grandfather is on the right. The man on the left was his friend.

 

Is this Baden in Germany? or is that booth to buy a ticket? My grandfather in on the left.

 

My grandfather sitting in the front

Know anyone in these photos?

Concerning the last photo, it raises an interesting question. Do you you think the man on the top right looks like Itzik Manger, the famous Yiddish poet? Here’s a side by side, showing a close-up of the above person, and a photo of Itzik Manger from the YIVO Encyclopedia:

Right, Itzik Manger. Left, Maybe Manger?

I’m not an expert on Yiddish poets, and would never have thought of it, except in researching a distant cousin Golda I discovered she had once been married to (and divorced from) this famous poet from Romania. I never knew if this cousin even knew my grandfather, but if this Itzik Manger, perhaps this is evidence. Therefore is it possible that the woman he’s got his arm on is Golda, my grandfather’s cousin? or one of the other women in the photo? Here’s a picture of Golda:

Golda, my grandfather’s second cousin once-removed

So what do you think? Is that Itzik Manger? Is that my grandfather’s cousin with him on the beach, possibly in Knokke, a favorite vacation spot? The picture of Golda is obviously of an older woman than in the photo on the beach, but that makes sense sine the photo of Golda was taken in 1939, when she was 35 (she was born in 1904). In the beach photo my grandfather looks like a teenager, so it could have been 1930 or shortly thereafter.

Itzik Manger survived the war and eventually moved to Israel. My grandfather’s cousin, however, likely died during the war, although I’ve found no direct evidence of that. All I know is she shows up in the first register of Jews in Belgium in 1940 after the Germans invaded, but not in the later registration done in 1942. She doesn’t show up in deportation lists, which recorded all those deported from Belgium to Auschwitz, so she either escaped Belgium or was killed. If she escaped, perhaps she changed her name and the trail was lost, or perhaps she escaped from Belgium only to be killed later in the war – certainly a possibility.