My Grandfather Lost a Lot During WWII, but He Never Lost His Kindness
A granddaughter discovers the true kindness of her family member after he was gone.
Growing up, I always thought my grandfather was the kindest man alive. Probably all kids feel that way, but I'm almost certain in my case it's true.
I remember my excitement when grandpa came to town. While grandma came bearing gifts, he came full of laughter and stories. Needless to say, it’s the latter I remember. He was warm, joyful and yes, kind. It wasn’t till after he passed that I learned just how kind he was.
A Paper Trail of Generosity
I was in college when he died. My mom took over the estate to manage the finances and take care of my grandma. The process was bumpy, to say the least, but among the grief and piles of paper were years and years of kindness.
While getting his affairs in order, we learned a lot about what my grandfather did with his free time and spare funds. First, there were the donations: tens of thousands of dollars in monthly contributions donated to his church and other organizations.
Then came the stories. After the funeral, my mother reached out to one of his lifelong friends. Naturally, he had some tales to share. A lifetime, it turns out, of stories about my grandfather’s generosity. Among other things, he talked about how my grandpa always, without fail, stopped and gave change to homeless folks when their paths crossed. A small, consistent gesture that speaks volumes about his character.
His Journal Told a Larger Story
It was the journal, though, that really cemented his memory for me. Among his possessions was a collection of stories detailing his extended family, his parents and his childhood. A childhood in Warsaw. In the ‘30s and ‘40s.
The whole of the collection is a reflection of his unfailing kindness and positivity, but there are a few excerpts that stand out.
On working as a messenger for the Jewish Community Council:
“I obtained a job as a messenger boy for the Jewish Community Council delivering notices that peoples’ requests for clothing and shoes were denied. Of course, nobody ever expected to get anything from the Germans but the notices had to be delivered—German efficiency above all. Only much later I found I was the only one who bothered to climb all the stairs. All the other messengers simply dumped the notices in the garbage.”
On parlaying his messenger job into something much more important:
“Taking advantage of my job with the Jewish Community Council, I found a job in a factory manufacturing flight vests for the Luftwaffe. This made me, and to some extent the rest of my family free from deportation.” (That’s deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp, by the way.)
On living in hiding after leaving the ghetto:
“The living conditions were very difficult for me…But even in this hardship, sleeping in [a shared bed] with the ever-present bed bugs my will to survive did not die.”
I could go on. There are pages and pages dedicated to his family, celebrating their accomplishments, their talents and their determination to survive.
Family Isn’t Always Perfect
You learn a lot about your family as an adult. Parents lose their filters (or at least mine did) when talking about relatives, and many of those pleasant childhood memories lose their shine. But those of my grandfather remain untarnished.
He’s been gone for many years now, but we’ve never lost his spirit. I’m reminded of his kindness and his positivity daily. I only hope to do his memory justice.