Wednesday, January 4, 2012

History will teach us everything.

(Guest Post by Neil W.)

Why are these women here dancing on their own?
Why is there this sadness in their eyes?
Why are the soldiers here
Their faces fixed like stone?
I can't see what it is that they despise

They're dancing with the missing
They're dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They're dancing with their fathers
They're dancing with their sons
They're dancing with their husbands

They dance alone

They dance alone

~from Sting "They Dance Alone"

Reflection is a powerful tool. It grounds you. . . reminds you. . .awakens you. . .inspires you. I have spent many days closing my eyes and trying to walk in the footsteps of those who came before me. . . which, for an African American woman working inside of Grady Hospital, hasn't required a far stretch of the imagination. I have pored through books about the middle passage, slavery and Jim Crow horrors--because this is a part of the history of my people. And it helps me to appreciate my life more.

Neil W., a fellow Grady doctor and good friend, shares here about his reflections on a piece of his family's history. Neil, like many people of Jewish faith in the U.S., is the descendant of Eastern European ancestors. The journey of his people to this country was often one of sacrifice and pain. With the help of his cousins and other family, Neil has carefully excavated facts and connected the dots between the true story of his maternal ancestors. . . a bittersweet journey of tragedy and triumph.

This story? Yes, it is of one family. But this family tells the story of someone else's family, I'm sure. Someone reading this will recognize these places, these horrors as if their very name had been inserted instead. And. Some reading this will learn of these facts for the first time. And that's okay. Because like we said before, getting each other is a good thing and getting down to the nitty gritty of history can be a good place to start.

And yes. Sometimes. . . . . history will teach us everything.


"Remember and never forget it all your days;
and pass this memory as a sacred testament to future generations."

Dr. Elkhanan Elkes, Community Leader of the Kovno Ghetto

Recently I traveled to Buenos Aires to attend a medical conference, then took the opportunity to visit my family in neighboring Brazil. Normally the prospects of gallivanting through South America would’ve had me flying high, but as the trip neared I felt conflicted. My 22-month old son Matthew had become quite the little man and our strong bond was growing with each and every day. Leaving his side for a whole week seemed almost too much for me to bear.

Matthew takes his morning run
Just before my trip, I received a priority package from my uncle Elliott, who was retiring and moving out of his long time Chicago home. Being the keeper of the family tree that I am, he’d decided to send me his collection of family pictures & memorabilia.

The convergence of these seemingly disparate events forged a powerful reflection, reminding me of just how fortunate I am to be living here—in this time, in this place. To understand my sentiment you have to know the story of my family; it begins in Eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th century.


The Grobman Family

My great grandparents, Isaac and Elke Grobman, and the generations that preceded them lived in the largest city in Lithuania called Kovno (in Polish) or Kaunaš (in Lithuanian). Throughout history the Jews of Kovno were periodically exiled by the town’s leaders and were forced on many occasions to leave. They didn’t need to go too far however, as they were allowed to settle in an impoverished district across the Neris river called Slobodka (Vilijampole is the formal Lithuanian name). It was in this village or “shtetl,” that Jewish life and religion took hold.

A shtetl in Poland (image credit)

Isaac and Elke had 5 children, the youngest of whom was my grandmother Fruma (often changed to “Florence” by emigrants to the United States.). Several months after her birth in 1915, Isaac died at 36, from complications of diabetes, leaving Elke to struggle in poverty as a single mom. Around this time World War I broke out and the Jews of Kovno suffered terribly as they were expelled (regardless of illness or handicap) from the city of Kovno. It was a difficult way of life and Elke tried desperately to provide a better opportunity for her family.

In 1928 the oldest Grobman child, Leo, along with his wife, had an opportunity to teach a recently created language called Esperanto (touted as the universal secondary language) in Brazil. And so they set out to South America for a better life. 

The following year, my grandmother got an opportunity to leave next. Her aunt (Dobra Grobman), had emigrated to the United States two decades earlier, settling in The Bronx, New York. She was contacted and agreed to care for my grandmother--at least temporarily--as plans were made for an arranged marriage in Chicago (by whom I do not know). 

I could only imagine how difficult it must’ve been for my grandma to get on a boat alone, at the tender age of 14-- not speaking a lick of English--and then travelling thousands of miles to a new world and family that she'd never met before. If I close my eyes, I see a clear picture of her with tears in her adolescent eyes as she said goodbye to her mother, 2 sisters (Hinda and Hana) and her brother Dovid (Yiddish for David). 

Given their proximity in age, Dovid was the big brother who always watched over my grandmother. He was a kind soul and anyone who had the pleasure of meeting him considered him a real “mensch” (Yiddish for a person of integrity and honor). My grandma would miss the security of his presence and her mother’s wisdom the most. 

Ellis Island.

My grandmother arrived at Ellis Island and was met by her Aunt and cousins. She did, at some point, travel to Chicago but pulled the plug on the arranged marriage soon after the rendezvous. (I remember asking about it years ago and her referring to the guy as a wimp, “not for me.”) Anyone who knew my grandma understood she had a penchant for telling it like it was. 
She came back to The Bronx, worked manual labor jobs scrubbing floors and sent whatever she could back home (items such as cigarettes, gum and candy were hot commodities that had a high trade value). She then met my grandfather Abe, whose family had emigrated from Poland.
Dapper duo, my grandparents circa 1933

A few years later they married in 1935. Their first child, Rhoda (my mom) was born in December of 1939. Three months earlier, on the other side of the Atlantic, the German army steamrolled into Poland, marking the beginning of the Second World War.

Despite these concerns there was much to be thankful for. Lithuania had enjoyed an independent 20 year period after WW I and despite waves of anti-Semitism, the Jewish community in Kovno had grown, comprising a quarter of the city’s population; many were respected professionals, skilled artisans, and small business owners.  My grandma wrote home with excitement, proudly displaying pictures of her new bundle of joy. My great grandmother playfully wrote back; handing out motherly advice, like not to sleep with the baby in bed for fear of rolling over. There was other good news as well: Hinda and Hana, each had two children of their own and Dovid had a newborn son. Leo also was making a life for himself in Brazil and now had two children as well. The family was spread apart on 3 continents but remained close as ever.

Soon after Germany’s invasion of Poland, Soviet troops (a result of the connivance between Hitler and Stalin) once again marched into Lithuania, executed large numbers and deported many to Siberia. Despite the significant number of Jews among the victims, Lithuanian anti-Semites spread propaganda that this was Jewish “revenge” against Lithuania.

The Soviet Union’s annexation of Lithuania lasted approximately a year, until June 22, 1941, when the German armies crossed the Soviet border and invaded. Most Lithuanians welcomed the Nazi occupation as it meant freedom from the brutally oppressive Soviet regimen.

One day after the German attack, the last Soviet forces had left the city, but the Germans had not yet arrived. In this temporary power vacuum, an “independent” Lithuania was proclaimed on Kovno radio. Lithuanian nationalists and pro-Nazi partisans patrolled the streets, robbing, beating, humiliating and killing Jews. On June 25–26 a massive pogrom took place in Slobodka, savagely killing over 800 Jews. On the next day, in a sadistic spectacle, dozens of Jews were beaten to death in two garages in the center of Kovno. The most well documented of which was the Lietikus Garage, which occurred in broad daylight as an audience of several hundred cheered and clapped enthusiastically as 68 Jews were killed one-by-one with iron bars.

Two weeks later the Jews of Kovno learned of the establishment of a ghetto in Slobodka-Vilijampole. My family had already been living in Slobodka and the conditions there were poor; small wooden houses, with no running water or adequate sanitation. The majority of the Jewish population however, (nearly 30,000) lived in Kovno, and would have to cross the Vilija bridge into the ghetto, which would be divided up into a large and small section. A quarter of the population of Lithuania’s largest city would now be crammed into just a few blocks. Anyone defying these orders would be killed.

On August 15, 1941 the ghetto was “closed,” encircled by barbed wire and heavily guarded. Living in my family’s home already were my great-grandmother Elke, her children Hana, Hinda, and Dovid, along with their spouses and all the children. I’m sure others were required to pack into their residence as well, as the living space available in the ghetto averaged a mere 10 square feet person.

Cramped quarters in Slobodka

Life in the ghetto was brutal. It functioned essentially as a forced labor camp for the German military. If you couldn’t work, you were another mouth to feed and expendable. Rations were meager and most starved. Those who could work outside exchanged whatever valuables they had left for food. Every Jew inside and outside the confines of the ghetto was forced to wear a yellow star. Three days into the closing off of the ghetto, 534 people were killed in the first series of anti-Jewish operations, called “Aktion” in German. 

Then on October 4th, the Small Ghetto was liquidated and half of its occupants (1800 men, women and children) were taken to one of a series of Forts (Fort IX) that surrounded the city and were executed. The hospital for contagious diseases was set on fire and burned to the ground with its patients and staff locked inside.

On October 28th all Jews were told to assemble in Demokratu Square. Sergeant Helmut Rauca, the head Gestapo officer, along with S.A. Captain Fritz Jordan, began what was referred to as the “Great Action.” Each of the 30,000 inhabitants of the ghetto had to pass before them. While they tried to make reassurances that the process was only to sort the labor force, most knew otherwise. This was a decision as to who would live or die. Below is an eyewitness account:

 “From the beginning it became evident that Rauka was judging the people basically from their physical looks, their clothing, cleanliness, and size of the family. The younger, stronger and better-dressed people, with smaller families, that had less children or aging parents, were sent to the "good" side. The elderly, the ill, the weak looking people, families that did not have a man as the head of the family, families that were badly dressed or didn’t look clean, he sent to their death. There were hair-raising scenes when the murderers would decide to separate between families. Parents from children, and husbands from wives. Heart rending cries of despair could be heard throughout the huge place as families were torn asunder. The square began to fill up with dead bodies of the old and the sick who couldn’t endure anymore the rigors of the day and gave up their ghosts. Only the two henchmen were tireless, standing the whole day eating sandwiches and drinking coffee brought to them by their orderlies. Finally when Jordan and Rauka got the word that ten thousand men, women and children were now in the small ghetto, they called it a day.”
I can only imagine what my uncle Dovid experienced as he waited his turn in line. He was a strong man with a chiseled physique--over 6 feet tall and 200 lbs, and he looked every bit able to care for his family. My aunts were also married so everyone had a head of the household. To the best of my knowledge, everyone in my family survived this death selection. Tragically, the near 10,000 who were destined for death were taken to the Small Ghetto, then led to Fort IX the following day, where they were executed and thrown into freshly dug pits.

The “Great Action” stunned and sent the ghetto community into despair, as everyone knew someone who had been murdered. Comparatively, the following two years was a period of relative stability as Jews labored away in hunger and fatigue for the German war machine. At home in The Bronx, my grandmother was busy raising my mom and had just given birth to her second child in 1942. Her anxiety grew as she heard rumors about the German atrocities and had completely lost contact with her family.

Jews in the ghetto strived to maintain some form of normalcy. Two schools of about 200 students each were set up in supremely crowded conditions. The Germans closed this down a year later but clandestine private education continued. Another ghetto hospital opened and made use of whatever supplies were on hand. There was no maternity ward as pregnancy was made punishable by death.

On November 1, 1943 the SS (German secret police)  took control over the Kovno Ghetto and it was officially transformed into the Kauen Concentration Camp. With rumors of other ghettos being liquidated and with the SS carrying out brutal and mass deportations to Estonia, most felt as if the camp’s days were numbered. Parents desperately tried to find reliable and accepting Christian families to smuggle their children out. Others attempted to build hiding places in case another killing time were to come. During late 1943 and early 1944, a resistance movement took hold. Money to buy arms, to provide transportation and to bribe guards was raised in the camp. Hundreds of Jewish partisans escaped to the forests of Lithuania and continued to run operations.

The Germans eventually became aware of the relationship between the underground and the ghetto police (Jews assigned to keep law and order; in exchange for privileges such as protection from deportation). On March 27, 1944, 130 members of the ghetto police were tortured, and after efforts to get more information were unsuccessful, 36 were killed at Fort IX. On the same day began the nightmarish 2-day “Children’s Action,” in which approximately 1300 victims—children under the age of 12 as well as those over 55—were dragged from their homes and hiding places. It is during this event that the children of Dovid, Hinda and Hana (my cousins) were all killed—except for one, Isaac.

The depths of desperation and despair my great aunts and uncle must have felt are unfathomable. They had already survived inhumane conditions, dodged bullet after bullet, only to have it come down to having their children forcibly ripped from their clutches. What else could there have been to live for?

Life, if you can call it that, dragged on for several more months in captivity until the midsummer of 1944, when the Soviet armies again entered Lithuania. With the threat of the advancing Red Army, the time had come to liquidate the concentration camp. Over a 6-day period from July 8—13th the Germans evacuated the camp, burning it to the ground with grenades and dynamite, then deporting most of the remaining Jews on boxcars to the Stutthof camp in Prussia. There the men were separated from the woman and sent to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. The time had come for my uncle Dovid and his two brothers-in-law (one of whom survived) to say goodbye to the Grobman women. I am certain they too, had to be forcibly torn apart. As they uttered their goodbyes, they surely hoped and prayed to see each other again.

It never happened.

Elke and her daughters Hana and Hinda were later killed. Three weeks later, August 1, 1944, the Soviet army liberated Kovno, but it was too late.

My uncle Dovid arrived at Dachau physically and emotionally tormented. He summoned an inner strength however, and pushed onward. Perhaps it was the hope of seeing the remnants of his family or maybe it was bearing witness to the atrocities that had befallen his people. Over the next 10 months he managed to work and stay alive.

As American war planes streamed overhead and bombs pounded the ground in April of 1945, the Nazis stepped up their killing. I don’t know the exact details, but at this point my uncle had grown weaker and weaker, nearing death. He may have been left for dead and tossed on a pile of corpses or perhaps during a mass execution he managed to avoid being shot and fell first. Whatever the circumstances, he was barely clinging to life when American forces came rolling into Dachau on April 29, 1945.

Upon their arrival, the GIs could not wrap their minds around what they were witnessing. Battle hardened men became sickened and nauseated by a site of horrors that defied description. While government officials in the U.S. had long knew of the genocide of European Jews and other “non-Aryan” peoples (the politics of rescue are a book in of itself) those on the ground had little in the way of forewarning.  Bodies lay everywhere; thousands and thousands of corpses that had not made it to the crematorium. One GI saw slight movement on a mountain of corpses and shouted for assistance. Together they dragged out a 60-lb. pound skeleton—my uncle Dovid.

My uncle was then taken to a Red Cross Hospital where he eventually regained his strength and made a full physical recovery. Many inmates survived liberation but were not as fortunate, as their illnesses were too severe. After being released from the hospital uncle Dovid was sent to a displaced persons (DP) camp. There he met Feige, whom he had known in Slobodka. Feige had also suffered tremendously in the ghetto, marching 3 miles each way to the Aleksotas Military Airfield (which still exists as a civil aviation terminal at Kaunaš), then laboring as many as 15 hours a day and marching back. She had been married with several children too, but they were all gone. In their grief my aunt and uncle found love and companionship and soon married. While in the DP camp they had twin girls. It was a common occurrence to see children born in the DP camps, as couples were defiantly fruitful. Additionally, experiencing a new beginning and infusing joy into one’s life quite possibly may have been the only way of remaining sane.

Back home in The Bronx, my grandma immediately assumed the worst. How could she not? The Jews of Lithuania had numbered 244,000 before the war. Now there were only 6,000; almost 98% had been killed. Think about those numbers for another second. The odds of survival were bleak.

Losing her whole family had thrown my grandma into a state of unimaginable grief, but life had to go on. She had a family of her own and was pregnant with her 3rd child (Uncle Elliott, who sent me the family memorabilia). Then one day while collecting mail outside of her apartment, she opened a letter which read:

Dear Florence Rubenstein,

“There is a displaced person in a European refugee camp by the name of Dovid Grobman from Slobodka, Lithuania, who lists you as a family contact. If your maiden name is Grobman and you are indeed the Florence Grobman that he is referring to, please contact HIAS officials at….”

My grandma hit the ground, pregnant belly and all and began wailing. Neighbors came running to offer assistance. Joy soon rang out as my grandma, through heavy sobs repeated, “Dovid’s alive, he’s alive.”

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) helped to facilitate my uncle’s arrival in the U.S. The Society has a long history of aiding displaced persons (read how there may not have been a Google without HIAS ( In order for my uncle to gain entrance into the country, my grandparents had to complete a ton of paperwork, ensuring the government that my uncle would find meaning work and not be a societal burden.

Then on that fateful day, after being apart for 20 years and thought to have been gone forever, my uncle, aunt and their two children Rita & Eleanor, stepped off the S.S. Ernie Pyle at Ellis Island. What a reunion it must have been. Several news agencies covered the story and followed my family back to the The Bronx. I remember seeing pictures from the NY Daily News at our house, but for many years I could no longer find the newspaper articles. I had given up looking for them and hoped that someday they would somehow reappear. Little did I know uncle Elliott had also kept a copy.

Photo from the New York Daily News Mar 24, 1948: Stepping off the S.S. Ernie Pyle at Ellis Island
Photo from the New York Daily News Mar 24, 1948: Arriving at my grandma’s apartment in The Bronx

Upon arriving in New York, Uncle Dovid and his family proceeded to live in my grandparent’s Bronx apartment. My mom, who was 8 years old at the time, recently described to me what life was like. She, along with her two brothers, were moved out of the second bedroom and had their beds placed in the hallway or living room. Nine people (four adults and 5 young children) proceeded to live in a 2-bedroom, one bath apartment. Of course there were sacrifices, like waiting for the bathroom or having little privacy, but they made do. My mom was old enough to understand that her uncle had suffered a great, unimaginable tragedy, but that’s all she knew, as it was a topic off limits for discussion. However, the sorrow was all around. From her hallway bed she would occasionally hear the night terrors as my uncle slept; the heavy sobs and groans piercing the doorway of the bedroom.   

After several years, working and saving, Uncle Dovid and his family moved to St. Albans, Queens, and continued to work in grandpa’s haberdashery business. I have fond memories of my uncle, the most vivid is as a young boy when he would stealthily hand me spending money, then make me promise not to give away our secret until he was long gone. He passed away before my tenth birthday and I never had the opportunity to learn about any of the family history which I just shared. My aunt Feige, lived well into her 80’s and only recently passed away.

Survivors: Uncle Dovid and nephew Isaac

The Story of Isaac’s survival

Isaac was born in 1926 to my aunt Hana. He was the first Grobman grandchild and was approximately 3 years old when my grandma left for the U.S. The following year, Uncle Dovid sent her the picture above of his nephew (Isaac) and him. A little over a decade later in 1941, Isaac, now 15, attended a summer camp in Palanga (a popular Lithuanian resort town along the Baltic Sea). That move, unknowingly, saved his life.  
As news spread about the German invasion, there was no going back home to Slobodka; Isaac never saw his parents or his 4 year old baby brother Melech (a Hebrew-Yiddish first name meaning “King”) again. The camp directors evacuated the children to Russia where at first they were taken in by an orphanage. Isaac then worked tirelessly at a factory, making weapons for the Russian army. After the war he returned to Kovno only to discover that none of his family had survived. He was drafted into the Russian army for a 4 year term then immigrated to Israel. Eventually he traveled to the U.S. in the 1970’s to reunite with Uncle Dovid (by then called “David”). My mom had the opportunity to travel to Israel for the first time 5 years ago to visit with him. Unfortunately he was in declining health and passed away several years later. I am deeply indebted to Isaac; although I never had the honor of meeting him, much of what I am now telling you comes from him in response to my queries. As painful as it was to relive, he gave his daughter Frida a detailed account of his life back in Slobodka. Frida was then nice enough to meticulously jot everything down and email it to me.

Of course, it would’ve been simpler to have asked my grandma these questions during the thirty years we shared. However, every time I would broach the subject it was like releasing a spigot of tears. I quickly realized that it was more compassionate to remain ignorant regarding my family’s history than to put someone who I loved dearly through so much pain. 
However, from what she did tell me, the pictures, my mom’s recollections, Isaac’s account and my study of the Holocaust, I have been able to piece together the details. My grandma passed away in 1995 during my second year of residency training. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her in some way. Her love for her children/grandchildren, outlook on life and tireless work ethic are just a few of her legacies that live within me. 

"One day we'll sing our freedom
One day we'll laugh in our joy
And we'll dance. . .and we'll dance. . . "
~ Sting

Better Times: Celebrating my medical school graduation with grandma and the rest of the family at Carmine’s in Manhattan, May, 1993.
I would like to thank my mom’s second cousin, David Fishlow. David, at the age of 5, was at the fateful family reunion in 1948 on the dock of Ellis Island. His family however, moved out of The Bronx soon after and lost touch for the next 50 years. We serendipitously connected online, given his strong genealogy interest and met for the first time the following year during a visit. I am indebted to him for his detailed stories about his trek back to Lithuania and visiting the site where the old house stood in Slobodka.

Lastly, I'd also like to thank my Brazilian cousins who have welcomed my visits to South America with open arms and warm hearts. My great uncle, Leo passed away years ago and another link to the old country was lost. My cousins however, have been eager to come along on this journey with me as we discover more and more about our family’s history.

After the medical conference: Visiting with my Brazilian cousins who still bear the Grobman name (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

Here with my mom, Rhoda.

While the trip to South America and the family photos summoned these powerful memories there’s another even more persuasive reason for me to finally document my family’s history—I am now a dad.

My uncle’s children were 4 and 2 years of age at the time of their deaths and part of me rationalized that their young ages somehow mitigated the emotional trauma both he and my aunt experienced. Now that I’m a father, I see that in many ways what they went through was even worse.

In the short time that my son Matthew has been here, I can’t remember what life was like without him. At so young an age, he’s developed a personality, can communicate what he likes and dislikes, and everyday seems to reach another milestone. I have spent hours instructing him and playing ball with him, placing my hopes and dreams upon him for every possible success. And that’s the point; to have those hopes and dreams shattered, to have your child ripped from you, crying out, with you powerless to “make things all better,” is the worst thing on earth I can possibly imagine.

When I arrived home from South America I entered the door to find Matthew playing with his toys. He looked up, gave me a big smile and then returned to what he was doing. I dropped my luggage, snuck up on him and gave him the tightest of embraces, ever so grateful to be living here—in this time and in this place.
The next generation: Matthew at several weeks of age (making his WebMD debut), my wife Tamara and Kim. A big note of thanks to Kim for making my trip to South America possible, covering my work for a whole week!


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . a song inspired by a different historical tragedy (executions in Chile) but with a melody that moves from tragedy to triumph. . .reminiscent of what Neil's grandmother must have felt when she saw her brother Dovid . . .alive.


  1. Blown. Away.

    No wonder you are so amazing. You come from a long line of amazingness.

  2. I don't comment often (I think I've commented once), I felt compelled to comment on this one. First, Thank you Neil for sharing your family story. Having visted Dachau twice in the last seven years, and ironically today will be a third visit. It's refreshing to see that there were people that survived the horrible concentration camp. I can't even begin to describe to you the feelings that come with visiting the camp. Again, thank you for sharing the story. Thanks Kim for your daily inspiration.

    Valarie (Stationed in Germany)

  3. Omgrrrl -- Neil is totally amazing! Thank you so much for taking the time to always read. It means a lot.

    Valarie(Riz) -- Wow, wow, wow. Thanks for commenting. Neil put a lot of thought into this, so your words mean a lot. Thank YOU for inspiring me by reading.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your family's story here, Dr. W. It is so unbelievably heartbreaking. Thank you also to Dr. Manning. We often just don't know what the person standing in front of us has been through, or what their family has been through, and what shaped those strengths and vulnerabilites we each carry with us.


  5. Amazing. It sounds a lot like my family's history, only they survived because they were't Jewish. As awful as this sounds, sometimes I wish they hadn't survived; I would have never had a mother about whom the nicest thing I can say about her is that she is inhuman.

  6. This story left me so affected I was speechless this morning when I read it the first time. I cannot imagine what it feels like to lose so many you love and in such horrendous ways.

    Thank you for sharing it here.

  7. Thank you to Neil for sharing your family's story (and to Dr. M for sharing it with all of us). I had the honor of visiting several of the concentration camps in Poland when I was 17 years old on The March of the Living (we also went to Israel). My own Grandmother narrowly escaped the horror that Neil's family faced. She was lucky that her father saw what was happening and brought his family to the U.S. August 31st, 1938 from Germany.

    Having seen the camps (Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek, and what's left of Treblinka) myself, this story was even harder to read. Those are not places you forget. Neil, continue telling your family's story and I will keep telling mine. We owe it to them.

  8. Powerful , humbling and a true testament to the power of the human spirit. Thank you for telling your family' s story, and to Kim-thank you for providing a means by which that story could be shared.

    Your fellow Meharrian,

  9. To Dr. Neil W.: Thank you so much for sharing your family's history. I can appreciate how painful it may have been to gather these pieces of the past and how difficult it may be to share them with strangers here. Your story resonates with my own family's history on so many levels. Despite the unimaginable pain and suffering, I read this as a story of triumph - the indomitable spirit of a family that withstood the harshest of storms and was able to live again, love again, laugh again. Your beautiful children are the proof.

    To Dr. M.: Thank you for so many things I cannot even begin to list, but at this particular moment for making it possible for this story to live in your corner of the virtual world.

  10. My mother grew up in a DP camp in Stuttgart. While not a jew, she was born in a part of Poland that became a part of Russia in 1945. My mother's family escaped ahead of the Russian army, in the winter of 1944, to the home of an aunt who prostituted herself to a German officer to provide the children with food. They eventually were sponsored by the Lutheran church, and came to America in 1952. By this time, my mother was 11.

    I tell you this, because recently, I visited my parents to discuss estate planning. As my mother was going through her files, showing me where everything was, her birth certificate (covered in swastikas) and her health card from the DP camp fell out. She slowly picked up the health card, and slowly began to tell me the story of their flight, and her childhood.

    "I was always hungry."

    The photo, of a thin, dark-eyed, child bore that out.

    Tears slowly ran down her beautiful cheeks as she told me,

    "My sister, Marica, died of Diptheria, who dies of Diptheria?"

    She covered her face with her hands and sobbed.

    I sobbed with her, and held her until she stopped crying.

    It is the only time in my 49 years that I have ever seen my mother cry.

    Thank you for your story. I am humbled.

  11. Thank you Neil for sharing your history. I attended a wedding many years ago of a friend of my husband's and a woman whose parents were both Holocaust survivors. Her parents and their friends from the camps celebrated with songs, stories and so much love. I cried the entire reception overcome with the history and it wasn't even MY history. Years later my son won a Champions of Caring award in Philadelphia given by an organization of Holocaust survivors. I like to think the people at that wedding would have been proud to know that their story resonated to an Irish Catholic girl and her Italian American son...

  12. I read - and reread - this story a few times. It is so eloquently written. Thanks, Neil, for sharing it. That this piece begins and ends with Matthew speaks volumes to me. It resonates as a love story to him, and a testament to his ancestors - strong, resilient people. For me, it says, look at your past, your people. This is who you are.

  13. Thank you so much to everyone who has read my post and even more to the folks who have felt inclined to leave a comment. Just as writing this was difficult, I'm sure that sharing your own stories were too. They are heartfelt and truly appreciated. I am amazed at how many of us have a strong connection to this history. Thank you sincerely.


  14. Thank you so much for sharing these histories. They are invaluable, and if we listen well, they make all of us stronger. Most of my relatives perished in the camps, and I know very little of their lives, so the details and pictures Neil provides touch me deeply.

  15. I finally got the opportunity to read this post, and I'm glad I did. Thank you for sharing. The horror and the pain of all the deaths is just unimaginable. There is so much to be seen in this story- so much to learn.

  16. To all of the awesome readers of the little blog that could:

    Can I please just say thank you? This story meant so much to my friend, Neil, and I am so proud that so many people took the time to read and respond to it. Your own stories were deeply appreciated, too. Wow. I learned so much in reading and posting this,and continue to be in awe of the resilience of human beings. Yes, history will teach us everything, now won't it?

    To those "Neil-buddies" who visited via Neil's link, thank you for stopping by, too. Neil forwarded me many of your comments, thoughts and insights, and they represent all that is wonderful about friendships. I loved reading your kind words to him. So cool. Like me, I am sure your eyes were opened to another aspect of your dear friend.

    Oh yeah, and Mom (Shugsie) that comment meant a lot to Neil and was spot on. You rock. Neil, just be glad she didn't mention any typos or grammatical errors. Hee hee.

  17. Neil, first thanks for sharing the story of our family on this site. I was very touched and moved.
    I feel very proud of our ancestors and I can´t imagine the horror and despair they passed.
    What this story is told and retold a thousand times for those who suffered barabaridades as many Jews are remembered and never occur again.
    I appreciate your sensibility to narrate the facts. Thanks for all.
    I printed the text in Portuguese and distributed among family and friends. I want everyone to read.
    Your cousin from Brazil


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