They Died During the Holocaust

Last year I wrote about Dad’s mysterious grandfather, Leon. I am happy to report that I have made a lot of headway regarding what happened to him and his family thanks to a cousin who contacted me after locating Dad’s family tree on Ancestry.com.

I learned that Grandpa Leon was the youngest of at least four children. Two of his siblings as well as their spouses and children all died during the Holocaust, presumably in the gas chambers. A brother, David, died in what Dad’s cousin referred to as “hand-to-hand combat with the Nazis.” There is so much tragedy in Dad’s family.

Dad knew his grandmother—a woman named Anna Schussheim. She died when he was a young boy and lived not far from his family in New York. Anna and Leo were divorced sometime after 1940 and he was never part of the family after that.

According to Dad’s new relative, Leo remarried and Leo’s death certificate (Yes, girls, I collect death certificates!) stated that he remarried a woman named Manya. So not only did he have an elusive grandfather, he also had a secret step-grandmother.

A mysterious fact regarding Leon is that his last name, Schindler, was the maiden name of his mother. Why did he not take the name of his father like his other four siblings? Perhaps we will never know, or maybe Dad’s cousin will have an answer one day.

Little by little I am knocking down his family brick walls.

Check out the testimony of Dad’s great uncle regarding what happened to his daughter Sofia.

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I Gotta be a Macho Man

Another day, another song, another memory. Today a song came on the radio and I immediately thought of your grandfather—the grandfather you never knew—and I chuckled.

Your grandfather was a smart man, and like your father, he was a technical guy. After graduating from the Bronx School of Science where he was a star student in the first Electronics Industry Association-sponsored advanced television course, he went to work as a television repairman. At that time, the number of televisions in American homes was measured in the thousands rather than the millions, so he was ahead of his time.

He had a television repair shop in a very rough area of the Bronx where it was common for merchants to have guns for protection. Apparently, your grandfather was so anti-gun that Dad thinks he would be a proponent for the repeal of the infamous Second Amendment if he were alive today. Clearly, he would be appalled at what is happening these days in our country.

He received a degree from NYU in Industrial Education, so he move from being a business owner to an educator, teaching courses such as electrical shop and drafting. Eventually your grandfather headed a program of occupational education courses for the developmentally handicapped where he prepared these students to enter the workforce. He secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to support these programs. Both young people and adults benefited from his work in training them in the areas of health education, auto mechanics, and office occupations.

So dedicated was your grandfather that he continued to work until the week before his death. Wow! I knew little of this man. Instead, I knew a man who loved to eat, loved to tell loud jokes, and loved to eat sushi, which was one of his last meals. Dad left his hospital bed to bring him some of his favorite rolls.

Why did I think of your grandfather yesterday? During a news cycle when we heard of yet another mass school shooting and I was feeling rather bummed out, a song made me think of him. For a moment, I forgot about the disturbing news and I smiled.

Your grandfather loved the Village People, especially “YMCA” and “Macho Man.” It has been thirty-seven years ago this month that he was singing about the fun he had staying at the YMCA.

Mourning Puerto Rico

Another hurricane has wreaked havoc throughout another locale with a personal connection to our family. This time it is Puerto Rico, where Dad spent his final three-employment years working on this once tropical paradise. While the condo he rented was in the beautiful resort of Palmas del Mar, we soon learned that living on the beach on an island is not the same as vacationing on an island beach.

Grocery shopping was an ordeal, involving a forty-five minute drive to the nearest large supermarket with often forty-five minute lines at the check-out counter. We learned early on that ice cream would not survive the trip back home.

The best medical care for Dad was the onsite doctor at work. He knew that if he, or any of us, experienced a major medical issue, leaving the island was the best way of ensuring a healthy outcome.

Still, we enjoyed our time on the island. We’d turn on the car radio and hear music from nearby St. Thomas. I remember looking out the window each morning, waiting for the haze to disappear, revealing the island of Vieques, just twenty-five miles away rising gracefully in the morning mist.

We have been following the news reports and viewing the photographs and videos with great sadness, particularly having spent time there and knowing people personally affected. This morning a story popped up on my phone, reporting about the forgotten island of Vieques.

All the 10000 or so people on Vieques survived the storm, the deputy mayor, Daisy Cruz Christian says. But in the last week, some of the frailest have died. Supplies have been promised, she adds, but none have arrived. …There is no power on the island. No one has been restocking food or water or fuel supplies. No one knows when that will come.- Bill Weir/CNN.

Seeing first-hand these remote areas, particularly the impoverished villages along the mountain route we would often take between Palmas del Mar and the San Juan airport makes us all-the-more aware of how each minute may mean the difference between life and death for so many Puerto Ricans.

Will it ever be the same again?

                                         Somewhere in Palmas Del Mar- From Palmas Facebook page

 

No Tortilla Shortage

Here we go again! Another hurricane is coming, and this time, we may be in the path—or not. We are watching the forecasters as they attempt to determine who will get slammed and who will be spared.

In preparation, Dad and I went out on Tuesday looking for supplies. We already had several jugs of water from the “1000 Year Storm” along with bottled water remaining from our eclipse party, but our flashlights were in need of batteries. We headed to Lowes.

Normally when we go to Lowes, Dad likes to wander around the store trying to locate, on his own, whatever we are there for, because (as everyone knows) men don’t ask for or read directions. I, on the other hand, am not opposed to seeking assistance.

This time was different. Suddenly, he wanted to find a Lowes associate to help us find a particular item.  I, on the other hand, felt very strongly about not asking because I was positive we would be laughed out of the store. So we split up and set out on our mission. Up and down the aisles we went, until I located the empty shelves which formerly held the item Dad wanted. Days before the Mother of all hurricanes, Dad wanted to buy a generator.

For the time being, we accepted defeat and resolutely headed to the battery aisle, and then decided to go home to see if Amazon could fulfill our order (Allegedly it will arrive on Tuesday.)

We concluded our hurricane shopping with a quick trip to Aldi—not for water or bread or even wine. No siree, those are not the items needed in our household. Dad decided there was only one supply he needed to complete our hurricane kit—tortillas! (Why is that not obvious to everyone?)

When the winds begin to howl and the rain pours down, he will be making tacos and enchiladas. That’s your Dad!

Going Greener

My great grandfather prided himself in having the latest gadgets, but Grandma’s father did not have the financial means to indulge in any luxuries except for the 10-inch television he bought through easy monthly payments. Beyond that, he was lucky that he was able to provide for the basic needs of his large family, although sometimes relying on income from his children.

Look around today and you will see how common it is for even young children to have gadgets such as the IPad and electronic toys. It is a different world.

This past week, we had solar panels installed on our roof and extra insulation added in our attic. We are now awaiting the official A-Okay from the county electrical inspector so that we can begin producing our own electricity. This is definitely the coolest gadget we ever owned.

While I am a bit uncertain regarding the science of how this will work, we have done enough research and spoken to several very happy solar customers—one who is producing so much electricity that he gets a rebate from the local electric company—that I agreed with Dad to move forward with the installation.

Bryce stopped by today and saw the panels on the roof for the first time. Naturally, as is customary for a four year old, he asked what they were, and I pathetically attempted to explain the process, which was difficult given my lack of total understanding of the science. For now, he was satisfied in knowing that the sun was helping us to power everything in our house which is plugged into the wall.

I look forward to seeing the fruits of the work as exemplified by my very low electric bills. Maybe my home, which is in the sun over 12 hours/day during the summer, will produce all my electricity.

Watch here in a few months for updates.

Whatever Happened to Grandpa Leon?

I have told you what little I know about Dad’s father’s grandparents, so now it’s time to fill you in on Grandma Rita. You all knew her for just a few years because she died in 1993, before any of you really got to know her. Her family has some mystery to it, and the biggest mystery is regarding her father—Leon Schindler (like the list).

Leon and Dad’s grandmother, Anna Schussheim, came to America in 1923, within just one month of Dad’s other grandparents, Misha and Esther. Both sets of grandparents lived within forty miles of one another in the same area of Poland.

Like Dad’s grandparents, Misha and Esther, Leon and Anna did not come here with the intent to settle in New York City. According to their record from Ellis Island, their final destination was Cleveland, Ohio, which was the home of Anna’s older brother Elias, who was known in America as Elmer. I have no evidence that they ever went to Cleveland but settled instead in Brooklyn before moving to the Bronx, where Grandpa Leon was employed as a knitter.

Because of the change in plans of both sets of grandparents, the four of them settled literally around the corner from each other—0.2 mile apart. I just love these stories about how people end up together because of random decisions that places them on a collision course with destiny. Your lives depended on that change of plans.

So did Anna ever see her brother again? Did Dad’s mother know that her Uncle Elmer died in Miami, where his family went every Christmas to visit his other grandparents?

Dad knows so little about Leon because his mother never talked about him. She was angry because he left the family when Grandma Rita was very young—sometime around the age of twelve. Leon is the mystery. I cannot find him after the 1940 census. He has not appeared in the World War II draft records, any local directories, naturalization records, or any news articles. He just disappeared.

Because he is Dad’s grandfather, not just a random cousin three times removed, I am determined to solve the mystery of Grandpa Leon. My first idea is to check on a Leon Schindler who died in 1962 in New York—just a year after Anna. I want to order the death certificate, and see if it is him.

Anna’s family, on the other hand, is not so mysterious. That is a very sad, but not secret story. Many of Anna’s relatives were victims of the Holocaust, but that is a tale for another day.

This and That About Dad’s Family

It was recently pointed out to me that I have talked very little about Dad’s family, which is primarily because his history is more vague than mine regarding both sides of his family tree. So I will do my best to fill in a few blanks, beginning with what I was able to find with my ancestry-stalking skills. There are so many mysteries to your father’s family.

Dad’s grandparents were Misha  and Esther (born Jeska). According to their naturalization papers, Misha was born in Russia, while Esther was born in Poland, in cities which were approximately 3500 miles apart. How did they ever meet?

It is interesting to note that they arrived in New York in 1923 on the Berengaria, which (if you read my book), is the same ship that my father sailed on eight years later when his family emigrated to the Soviet Union.  (Cooincidence or foreshowing?) Misha and Esther’s last known residence was Berlin.

They headed to the Boston area, settling in the town where Misha’s mother had come just three months earlier, joining several of her siblings and possibly her mother (Dad’s great-great grandmother). Dad had no idea that he had so much family living in the Boston area. He only knew of his great aunt Sonia, whose daughter Miriam had come to our wedding. He has been surprised to learn that his great-great grandparents and a plethora of aunts, uncles, and cousins lived up there. As someone with a rather big family, most of whom I know, I think this is very fishy!

We always said that the hidden family was because we believed his father was part of the Witness Protection Program. My theory is that Dad’s family was separated from the Boston family because of the mysterious death of his great aunt Carol, whose body was never found after a fire in the house. The only problem with this suspicion is that the dates of her death don’t match with anyone’s move from Boston. Maybe her husband, Uncle Dan, talked in his sleep and said something to someone and word filtered down to Carol who had to be eliminated. (More on that another time.)

Back to Grandpa Misha….

In the old country, Dad’s grandfather had been a musician and his grandmother was an actress. Misha played a Russian string instrument known as a balalaika. Did they ever continue their life of show business here? No one is alive to tell the story. (Hmm… Lots of bodies in this family!)

balalaika
For some reason, his grandparents, his great grandmother, and two of his grandfather’s brothers moved to New York sometime between the end of 1925 and August of 1927, when Dad’s father was born. Thank goodness for all of you, because I am confident that Dad and I would never have met had he grown up in Massachusetts. I guess it was just destiny.

Eventually, Grandpa Misha abandoned his musical career and moved into something more stable, beginning as an accountant and eventually working as a banker at Merchant’s Bank—the bank which morphed into Valley National Bank of which you are all stockholders.

Well, that’s it for now. There are many sad stories in the family, many of which are related to the Holocaust and Grandma Rita’s family. Stay tuned for more another day.