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 Rather Than That

So much of what happens to us is all about timing and seemingly insignificant decisions. An employee of Morgan Stanley left her office on the 67th floor of the World Trade Center to have a cigarette just moments before the first plane hit the towers. So she lived. A man from New York escaped death in a Paris café because he was unable to get a reservation for dinner there that night.

Kelly may never have met Mark if the University of Miami Admissions had not lost her application, resulting in her decision to become a Gamecock rather than a Hurricane. If I stayed at Douglass College, I would not have been working at Allied Chemical on that January day in 1977 when Dad asked me out on that first date.

My grandmother came to America in 1913. If she had come 3 ½ years later, her inability to read and write may have prevented her from boarding the ship to America. Congress passed an immigration bill in 1917, which required immigrants to pass a literacy test as one requirement to coming here. Anyone over the age of sixteen who could not read 30-40 words in their own language failed the test. Baba would have failed. This test restricted people because of their intellect as a way of preventing undesirables from immigrating to this country.

In 1920, thousands of Russians were arrested—3000-10000 on a single day—because the Attorney General feared they were communist revolutionaries. Some were deported. Many were guilty of nothing other than having Russian accents. Those raids concentrated primarily on individuals who were not yet U.S citizens.

If my grandfather had not met a man at a restaurant in New York City in 1913, who offered him a job in Rockaway, NJ, would he have been living in the city, where more of the arrests occurred? (Is this why I have been unable to find Grandpa’s family in the 1920 census? Were they afraid of being deported? Did they hide when the census taker came to their home?)

Dad’s grandparents never intended to come to America and settle in New York. His father’s parents’ final destination was Boston, and Grandma Rita’s parents’ plan was to continue on to Cleveland. For some reason, their plans changed, so Rita Schindler was able to meet Sam Bobrow in New York — close enough for me to meet Dad  twenty-five years later in New Jersey.

If Jamie had not lost her job here in South Carolina because of state-wide budget cuts, would she ever have met Geoff in New Jersey? So many accidents and acts of timing brought all these people together and caused some people to live rather than die. It really is quite mind boggling when you think about it.