This is my first post in awhile, for I was still grieving the loss of my beloved aunt, when my dad died of Parkinson’s in March. And I found myself sunk even deeper in the quicksand of depression. Writing is therapeutic, but I was so locked in grief that I couldn’t write.
Grief and depression are a bitch.
But now, finally and shakily, I write.
Saying the past few years have been hell is an understatement. My poor dad suffered, and it was understandably excruciating for me, my brother, and my mom to watch. But long before Parkinson’s, suffering was no stranger to my father. In fact, suffering was the hallmark of my dad’s life.
I will write a different tribute to my dad on another day, but today I need to divulge a family secret: my dad and his family survived-did-not-survive the Holocaust.
My family history is shrouded in mystery, so much so, that the concept of creating a family tree is foreign to us.
My dad was born in 1937 in Poland — Vishkov to be exact, a small village not far from Warsaw. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and most of my family perished. The lucky ones fled. Understandably, my family knows nothing about what happened to specific family members or even who they were.
My dad’s father died in 1939 in Poland.
Family stories say he “drowned,” but no one ever found his body.
My brother and I suspect he was murdered, but we have no proof. My dad’s baby sister died, too. The stories surrounding her death are also unclear: either she starved or froze to death during my dad’s family’s escape from Poland. The trek was filled with hunger and extreme discomfort. Desperate for food, he and his family ate grass. The rare occasion they ate bread, my dad said it was so delicious, it tasted just like chocolate to him and his family.
For years, my dad, his mom, and the rest of his surviving family lived like nomads, moving from country to country — even surviving a Russian labor camp — until they immigrated to the US when he was about 12 years old.
He inherited a legacy of pain from the Nazis. Like our family members who survived this horror, my dad almost never talked about his experiences in Europe, nor did he watch films about the Holocaust.
No need to. He lived it.
He came to this country with nothing but the curse of memory. But he worked hard his entire life, often working two jobs to keep my mom, me, and my brother fed.
My dad was an exceedingly generous person. No matter how little money we had, he made sure my family’s needs were met. If my brother and I wanted ice-cream or to go to a movie, my dad never said, “I can’t afford it.” Instead, he reached into his pocket and found the money. His life of deprivation made him determined not to deprive his children of the good things in life.
We always had an abundance of food available, and my dad was an expert host: he offered food to relatives and friends constantly — to our embarrassment when my brother and I were growing up — and he couldn’t bear to see anyone go hungry. One time, at some sort of banquet, he gave his dinner to a woman who walked in from the street, claiming she had nothing to eat.
He and my mom eventually saved up for a house. And we lived the American Dream.
But all was not well in our household. My dad suffered from constant nightmares and emotional stress that plagued his entire life. So much so, that he received reparations from Germany until he died. Of course, reparations can never make up for his suffering.
My family history is filled with confusion and gaps. It always will be. And I grieve the relatives I never met.
My dad wanted what was best for his family. He was a devoted son, husband, and father. He died an American citizen in the country that embraced him, the country that he loved. I, my brother, and our children are my dad’s legacy. And we are honored.
Tags: coping with grief, death of a loved one, father's death, Holocaust, Vishkov