At the end of January, my family became sick with Covid-19. All of us were symptomatic with various versions of extreme fatigue, high fevers, GI issues, nausea, chest pain and coughing. It has been about five weeks at this point and my daughter and husband are fully recovered, my son and I are still have days with lingering fatigue, headaches and intermittent fevers mixed in among very good days. Needless to say, it was challenging to do any “learning” when getting out of bed for a few minutes felt like a major accomplishment so I needed to prioritize and did so instinctively. Following my intuition on what to do, what to keep up with and what to drop, we managed to find a daily rhythm. Granted the daily rhythm involved a lot of naps but in-between it was a lot of cuddling and read alouds in bed, reading through entire series and rereading favorites, listening to audible for hours on end, and creating art (mostly drawing) from bed. It was a time of respecting what our bodies and minds were capable of at that time (not easy to do).
I had a fantasy when I had first gotten sick, that as soon as I had a little more energy, I was going to start painting and creating art in bed and was trying to channel Frida Kahlo (didn’t exactly pan out for myself but did so for my son). This went on for at least two weeks where I’d wake up with a great art plan that quickly turned into a nap, followed by another nap, cooking a meal, and bedtime. The art managed to slip away. Then, my son started to get his energy back and began to draw while listening to audible for hours a day until he was once again exhausted. He inspired me to scale back on the fantasy that was wearing me out and be ok with keeping a sketch bad in bed and on the couch to just draw whatever came to mind without there needing to be a “finished product.” I learned to not put so much pressure on myself that it’s ok to spend time in bed not doing much or just doing what feels good when you’re sick and even sometimes when you’re not.
I learned that good books are still my best friends and my kid’s as well. When you’re sick, and feeling alone, it’s a good book that can talk to you and keep you company while distracting you just the right amount. I think I’m going to continue with the long stretches of just laying in bed reading well after the sun comes up at least a day or two a week.
My son’s drawings really flourished and he developed a confidence in his drawing as he drew so much more in a day than he had drawn in combined time over months previously. Being home, sick, under a foot or two of snow helped to reestablish a time of creativity and a time to just think. I’m so thankful that we are recovering and realize how lucky we are.
Finally, I also learned, I NEVER want COVID again 🙂
Amanda Gorman is not just brilliant but incredibly perseverant. At 5, Gorman was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder and a speech impediment. She learned to use that as as a strength. She found and honed her voice to craft her very personal poem, “The Hill We Climb.”Her poem is an inspiration for all of us to unite, be resilient and continue to have hope.
Like most kids, my nine year old loves stories. He loves to tell stories to his friends when he’s building a home in Minecraft or while building a fort. Like many nine year olds, he has a constant dialogue going. He loves listening to stories read by adults, other kids, on audible or other devices. He loves reading independently and he will beg to stay up late just to read. Yet, none of this translated into a desire to write. Not only was there little desire, there was flat out resistance and refusal to even consider writing down his stories.
For a long time, my son seemed to think crayons were for throwing. As I wrote about in a previous post, creating a blog changed his relationship with writing. It changed all of the kid’s that I work with feelings about writing. Having a blog, a voice in the world is empowering, especially during a time when staying connected can be a Herculean task.
I ran the idea of creating a blog “by kids and for kids” with my son and a few kids I’m working with and they ran with it. Then, I told them that if they wanted something on the blog they would also have to write out all of the instructions and magically there was agreement. The kids were excited.
The kids worked like anyone starting a blog. They needed to generate ideas and content, they needed to start thinking about such as, “Does the photo or pics match the text? Can you give that step with a clearer voice?” and the kids learned to think about formatting and editing. These kids who aren’t yet two digits were actively joining the world as writers, creators and collaborators.
As only kids can, the kid’s ideas for the blog came quickly and there was an endless list. Learning to focus on a single idea and focus in on the language needed to teach another kid something is enormous. The kids never complained about the many times, I asked them to break something down into smaller, more specific steps for a how-to lesson. When I had asked the kids to work on the same type of writing without the purpose the blog provides I would be met with groans and whines. The kids chose their topics for their target audience in a way adults never could. There are posts on how to zig zag on a skateboard, perfecting your cartwheel and how to do the coffee grinder. These 9 and 10 year olds really know the interests and hearts of their fellow kids since adults no longer hold that all access pass.
Collaboration happened quickly and naturally. The kids wanted to discuss what they were doing with their friends and they welcomed feedback. Soon, the kids began to ask me questions about what was most popular on the blog to help them gauge what direction to go in and to think about their audience. They were thinking like writers, creators and entrepreneurs. Walks in the woods became opportunities to find new places to blog about and to connect what they were doing in their everyday lives to the world around them. They decided, independent of me, to start a comic book making club and a running club! We started looking at other kid reporters in places like Time for Kids and getting inspired by other kid scientists, artists and explorers. They have started to generate ideas about fundraising for a cause that they believe in. They want to use the blog as a vehicle to help that cause. I’m excited to see the kids engaged with creating and writing. I’m excited to see how this project continues to evolve and how the kids evolve along with it. I will keep you posted on how this goes and any fundraising for charity that decide to go with.
I hope you enjoy the kid’s blog but more importantly, I hope your kids do.
I’ve been there as well, on the battleground with pencil in hand, trying to convince my then seven year old that writing can be freeing and fun. I’d tell my kid things like,writing is important because you want to be able to express yourself and have your ideas written down and he would look at me like all he was hearing was blah, blah, blah.
Nothing I said or did provided much to convince my son of the joys of writing or to the fact that it is a necessary life skill.
There are two types of kids: those who love to write and those who would rather endure water torture than to sit down and write a few sentences. For the parents of kids who love to write, we see you. We know you are awesome but please leave for the sake of parental morale and come back for the next topic. For the rest of you, I feel you. I spent years handing my son crayons that he mistakenly confused as Nerf bullets and would throw them around the room.
I did a few things to ensure my son was able to write when he was developmentally ready. I made sure he knew the basic mechanics of writing. I used Handwriting Without Tears to teach my kid to quickly be able to write letters and words and eventually moving onto sentences. I love HWT and recommend the program however, there are many great workbooks out there if this program isn ‘t for you. I also had him spend ten minutes a day on spelling and word study from a word study book so that when he wanted to begin writing he would have the basics in place. Next, I needed to give him a reason to write.
What’s your kid’s motivation to write? We aren’t donkeys but a shiny carrot really does work for kicking writing into gear. My kid loves to dance and nature. I built a blog for him and a few of the kids I’m working with to have a reason to write. They’re making “how to”videos and “all about” videos on things that are important to them like doing the coffee grinder, skateboarding and their pet hamsters. The kids are writing ‘how to’ and “all about” pieces in order to make the website accessible to all kids and they’re excited about it. They want to write because they have a purpose and an audience. Once my son and the kids had their website going, my son started writing all the time because he now LOVES to write. He’s currently working on a comic book.
When D-Day comes for another push,
And fighting strength is in need,
They call upon in urgent need
One outfit for the rush.
The always toiling Infantry
With Engineers and Artillery,
With Medics, Tanks, and Air support
They make their way through every Fort.
Round for Round they won decision
The soldiers of the Blue Division.From 316—
That’s the way they will go
And will show
All the Nation
Their famous reputation.
You never heard
Of this sort.
With its inferno—
Volterra was another goal,
They drove the Germans from their hole—
In Summer’s burning sun,
They kept them on the run.
Battaglia was soaked with blood—
The men were fighting deep in mud—
With all their strength and energy
They won their greatest victory.
The Germans hate
And gave her a new name—
By God it’s no shame
And strictly on the level
To be called “Blue Devil.”
The final round has to be fought-
For victory we pray to God.
By Rudolph Meyer
In December of 1943, my grandfather arrived in Casablanca, in Northern Africa with 14,000 other men on an overcrowded Liberty ship as a part of the 88th Infantry Division. This would eventually become known as the “Blue Devils.” After spending a short time recovering from the trans-Atlantic trip they were off again by train to Oran and then trained in the Atlas Mountains to prepare for their arrival in Italy on the 21st of February. The 88th was there to secretly relieve the British 5th Infantry Division and by that March took control of the British sector. The American soldiers wore British helmets while the switch took place and it worked. The army was attempting to obtain control of a central Italian highway to Rome that would force a German retreat on both sides. By mid April the Germans and the Allies each had twenty-two divisions in Italy. My father was born a the end of April while my grandfather and the Allies went on to attack enemy lines at Mount Diamano and the Austene Valley. While the Germans put up a brutal fight, Mount Diamano was captured within an hour and the Gustav line had opened and Mount Rotondo had been captured as well as Santa Maria Infante. They were such a ferocious and fierce troop that the 88th became known as the Blue Devils by German prisoners who had supposedly stated, “the troops of the 88th fought like devils” and eventually the 88th division took on the nickname “Blue Devils” which was also a nod to their blue shoulder patches.
In May of 1944, the 88th had made it through heavy German fire and out of the mountains to head to the Eternal City. There was a brutal battle on the outskirts of the city by German resistance but by June 4th the Eternal City was taken by the Allies and they became the first division to enter Rome.Two days later they captured Rome. The Normandy invasion happened two days later and from there the 88th followed the Germans battling tanks and Nazi soldiers for one hundred straight days and by July they had captured the fortress town of Volterra where there was a large German garrison. By this point the Blue Devils had already lost over 6,000 men who had been killed, wounded or were missing. That April the offensive against the Nazis began. The Germans had spent months literally digging themselves into wrecked buildings, cliffs and into caves with machines guns and artillery hidden everywhere and the Germans were caught and the troops were the first Allied militia to enter Verona. Vicenza fell three days later and on May 2nd German forces surrendered and the war in Italy was over. On May 7th, the Germans surrendered and World War II was over. My grandfather and the thousands of other allies continued on through May and June guarding over three hundred thousand prisoners of war. My grandfather came home to meet his son for the first time when my dad was 16 months old.
When my grandfather and my father met for the first time at sixteen months my father cried and he was afraid of this complete stranger. My grandfather was so upset by this and could not understand how his son could completely reject him that he left for a couple of days before returning home again. My grandfather was soon working as an accountant at Columbia pictures while my grandmother taught second grade in the Bronx and my dad played stickball and with his dog Smokey. My grandparents had one child, my dad. I know my dad had always wanted siblings or cousins but the war made that difficult for those who were already of child bearing age when her spouse was fighting in a war for multiple years. My grandmother had written a short essay about feeling like a failure as a mother after attending an event at my dad’s school when we was maybe six or severn. She had been brought over to a bulletin board to see his family drawing of 6 stick figures labeled as made up siblings. Initially she was angry that my father had lied and then decided that she was the failure -obviously not true. My father went on to have four kids. I have other writing by her about the summer trips to Prince Edward Island and their time hiking. My grandparents had a great love for each other however like all of life it was complicated and how does one account for all the pain that came from my grandfather’s past. For those who survived there was tremendous guilt. How did I survive but not this one? One of my family members that had arrived after fleeing from Germany about a year after my grandfather eventually committed suicide. I’m going to share writing by my grandmother about that experience at the end if there’s time because I think it’s important to get back to the big question of how did this happen? How did Hitler manage to convince an entire country to murder six million Jews and five million gays, Romas and others?
How did Hitler create his master plan?
Adolph Hitler studied and modeled the final solution from United States racism and institutionalized policies. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States had led the world in race based law making in order to “safeguard” a white country.The United States codified their laws with the intention of keeping non-whites from immigrating into the US. These types of codified laws is the definition of white nationalism. Congress had passed laws to guarantee the vast majority of immigrants would be white Christians from Northern Europe and there was Jim Crow segregation. Nazis lawyers recognized that the US featured a quota system that was designed to maintain the dominance of “Nordic” blood within the United States. Jews who had a grandparent who was Jewish were considered Jewish. This is so reminiscent of the American “one drop rule” that the American government had used with African Americans to relegate them to second class citizenship and take away their basic human rights and civil liberties. In Mein Kampf, Hitler described America as the “one state” making the kind of racial purity progress and race based order that he had wanted to achieve. The 1935 National Socialist Handbook on Law and Legislation was a guidebook for the Nazis as they moved toward their goal of total eradication of Jews from the planet. Hitler recognized the United States as achieving “fundamental recognition of the need for a race based state.” Germany also had the complicity and support of many of the financial and politically elite of the United States. American companies like Standard Oil offered to supply all of Germany’s oil needs and profited significantly off of the Holocaust while major manufacturing companies like Ford and IBM supplied Germany with the means to murder millions of people. Those iconic American companies helped to rearm Hitler’s Nazis while profiting. Ford who was a notorious anti-semite was given the Grand Cross of the German Eagle by Hitler himself. That award was the highest honor a foreigner could receive from the Nazi party. Senator Harry Truman stated that “If the Germans are winning we support the Russians, and if the Russians are winning we support the Germans” maintaining a neutrality that would lead to millions of deaths. When Franklin D.Roosevelt (FDR) got the United States involved in the war as he described it, to” have a hand in shaping the post-war world otherwise he will be forced to sit outside the door and try to shout through a crack under the door.” FDR wanted to end the repression after WWII yet after his death Truman let Britain and France re-establish colonialism post-WWII. FDR had promised to keep the United States out of any foreign wars however after Japan had attacked Hawaii in the infamous Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941 he was now free to declare war. Prior to that point the overall American population did not want any involvement in the war. In order for the Nazi Party to be successful they would need to convince the German people that Jews were subhuman and Hitler and the Nazi Party did just that through the implementation of The Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935. This was anti- Jewish legislation implemented by Nazi lawyers who had used American laws as the model for a legal framework for the systematic persecution and murder of Jews in Germany. The laws were announced and celebrated during a Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg on September 15th, 1935. It was this legislation that led to the dehumanization and ultimately extermination, the murder of six million Jews and eleven million people in total who were murdered based on hate based race, sexuality laws and ideologies.. My grandfather would remain in Germany for two more years after the Nuremberg race laws had been implemented. These laws were the result of the racial theories and ideologies of the Nazi Party.
The Nuremberg Law defined “Jew” as anyone with three of four Jewish grandparents regardless of how that person self identified like the one drop rule of American racism. Jews were no longer allowed in public areas and signs read ‘Jews Unwelcome’ were erected in public spaces. My family and the families of every other German Jew were stripped of their Reich citizenship. Interfaith marriages and sexual relations between faiths were criminalized and so was homosexuality. Jews were banned from public places like swimming pools, playgrounds, parks, schools and hospitals. Jews had to register their property and businesses that were taken over by Aryans who would fire them. There was a sharp rise in suicide during this time as well as attempts to flee but the United States would only allow 200,000 Jews to enter the United States because there was a quota on Jews being allowed to enter. There were multiple ships that arrived in New York City that were forbidden from entering and forced to return to Europe. The thousands of Jews aboard those ships would be murdered like the nine hundred passengers on the MS St. Louis ship that carried Jewish refugees fleeing the night of broken glass and after being refused admittance first to Cuba and then to the United State and Canada ultimately being forced to sail back to Europe where several hundred were murdered with many of them being children. Those failed attempts to escape were known as the Voyages of the Damned. This was immediately prior to the mass killings and was really a propaganda tool to show the world that no-one wanted the Jews. All Jews including children were required to wear identity cards at all times and for those without “Jewish enough” names the government added a red “J” stamped onto them.
On November 9th, 1938 severe violence against Jews broke out across the Third Reich. German propaganda minister Joseph Goebells along with other Nazi government officials had carefully organized the burning and destruction of over 7,000 Jewish business schools, cemeteries, hospitals and homes along with dozens of murdered Jews while police, fire and government officials stood by and watched. The violent destruction continued over two days and became known as the “Night of Broken Glass” for all of the shattered glass that lay in the streets reflecting all of the hate and oppression of Jews. Two days prior a 17 year old Polish Jewish boy living in Paris had shot Ernst corn Rath a German diplomat in desperation after his parents had been deported to a no mans land between Germany and Poland. The Nazis used the incident as an excuse to claim the single shooting had been part of a larger Jewish conspiracy. Nazi propaganda was powerful and used to dehumanize jews who could then be seen as “other” or outsiders who did not belong and were sick and sub-human.
Before my grandfather’s death he was invited back to Bonn, Germany with my grandmother to find closure and for him to be welcomed and celebrated. He did not hold anger towards all Germans nor see each of them individually as guilty. He did believe that this could happen again in the United States and we had many glimpses of that as our current president has denied others basic human rights, seeks to take away other’s rights such as gay marriage and he refused to concede the election he lost and creating doubt and upheaval in the democratic process. While the war may have ended decades ago, it leaves us with pressing questions to consider now in the United States,
Where do we go from here?
What is the point of remembering?
What is happening in our world, our country at present?
Hitler was voted into his role through a democratic process which he then destroyed.
Thanksgiving is almost here and so is another opportunity to create a Thanksgiving that is filled with gratitude, love and lessons on perseverance, strength and community. It is a great time for our children to learn about the Native Americans who gave birth to this great country and to learn about their thriving cultures that existed for thousands of years prior to the arrival of colonists. It is important to give thanks to the people who came before us, for without them the pilgrims would never have survived.
Native American history is American history. We cannot correctly learn American History without including indigenous populations that are often left to holidays and random days.
What can you do at home to educate your children about Native American culture and history to teach accurate history?
Start where you are. What native populations lived or live where you are now? What local resources are near you such as museums and historical societies ?
I’m in Northern New Jersey where the Lenape once lived. When I take my kids to local parks, like Brookdale Park, I remind them that the large oval they’re skating around was once where the Lenape used to hold their community meetings. We walk and talk along various trails where the Lenape had thrived and try to imagine ourselves there.
We visit the Essex County Environmental Center to see a physical set up of how they once lived and used the land responsibly for future generations. Our local Montclair Art Museum has a fantastic collection of Native American Art as well as classes incorporating semesters devoted to teaching about their art and culture. The information is out there and waiting for your family.
What if you could give your child a magical pill that significantly reduces stress, improves cognition AND improves memory AND has ZERO negative side effects?
Would you break the bank to give it to them?
Of course you would!
Because you are awesome!
That magical pill is all around us. We just have to leave our front doors in order to access all of nature’s wondrous medicinal, emotional and cognitive benefits.
It’s not a secret that American schools have been lagging well behind the world academically at 27th place in the global rankings. The majority of top ranking schools are primarily located in Nordic regions such as Finland and Denmark. Those same countries rank well above the United States in happiness and quality of living with very low rates of poverty or unemployment. In some of the coldest regions of the world children are learning outside for part or all of the day well before covid. Researchers have found that learning outside and spending time in nature improves not just cognition but overall working memory, improved fine and gross motor development as well as provides better emotional stability.
Children have been learning outside since the beginning of time. Humans evolved to be living as a part of the environment and not completely separate from it. Sometimes, moving to sit outside to read a story can transform a child who is having trouble concentrating to one who is engaged and engrossed in a good book.
Have you noticed the dramatic increase in the need for occupational therapy for children to learn to tie their shoes, write somewhat legibly, or button their clothing? Spending increasing levels of time indoors and apart of the natural environment prevents children from developing necessary physical skills.
How can you learn outdoors? How can you not? Opportunities to learn are everywhere from studying fractals and Fibonacci sequences in milk weed plants while learning about monarchs and migration and then watching hawks fly to learning about angles and trigonometry by studying suspension bridges or bicycles and perhaps build one-you can take it as far as you can imagine it and it’s infinite not finite like within a static room.
Personally, my younger kid and I are watching for hawks migrating and when we go to these local parks to see this happening we are also stepping into American history since if you have a cliff on the northern New Jersey coastline then there’s a good chance Washington and his troops also set up camp there. Most of the parks and their accompanying websites are filled with information to make the visits that much more interesting.
Simply taking a walk around the block is enough to increase your heart rate, take in more oxygen and get your kids ready to learn.
When you choose to go outside and let your kids observe what’s going on they start generating questions which create more questions….(which YES it can be as annoying as F) but it is also beautiful letting your kids innate curiosity shine through. When they’re curious they learn more. For example, a girl I’m working with loves hawks and she asked when hawks would be migrating from northern NJ. During our search we learned that hawks are the indicators of the health of the ecosystem since they don’t have any natural predators which led to the follow up question, how does the ecosystem look? Why? What is significant that is happening right now (this wouldn’t be in a text book yet). The questions are able to expand because of the topic just like learning should.
How does this look for a child who is working hard at virtual school? Every 40-45 minutes send them outside for fifteen minutes for free time and let them do whatever they want out there. After school get outside even if just for a short walk around the block.
Interesting tidbit: Did you know that low levels of Vitamin D contribute to how severely someone is afflicted with COVID and causes depression?
Why are you dealing with your kid asking you the same question 13 times and having a meltdown over a math equation or a zoom fail while you’re trying to work when the panacea is just outside that door?
How do you hook your kids into history? Make it personal. If you are here now that means you are a survivor. Your bloodline is rich with stories of hardship, perseverance and resilience that can be woven within the context of history.
Recently, I gave a presentation about my grandfather at the Rey Cultural Center in New Hampshire. This is the former summer home of the authors H.A. and Margret Rey of the iconic Curious George books. The following is a somewhat slightly modified version of what I had shared..
In order to prepare for this event, I needed to revisit both personal and world history to create a bigger picture and have a better understanding myself. I am very lucky to have poetry from my grandparents where they wrote about the holocaust, the war, suicide and death as well as family, love and hope.
Six years ago, my almost three year old son was in love with Curious George and I read the books so often that I had them memorized. One night I googled the authors and I learned the story of the Rey’s was similar to my grandfathers. They were also German Jews who escaped the Nazis and I knew I had to drive the six hours to visit their summer home with my children.
Everyone is familiar with the iconic Curious George and the man with the yellow hat but what most people are not familiar with is the story of hope that George and his curiosity represents. In June of 1940, the German Jewish couple Hans and Margaret Rey had been on an extended honeymoon in France when the Nazis had occupied Paris and northern France. They fled with their manuscripts in their front basket along with a little food and the clothes on their backs. They fled with millions of other refugees fleeing south while Nazi aircraft flew overhead. Like many Jews, they hid in farmhouses and stables until they were able to board a train in Spain and eventually reach the neutral country of Portugal. In 1935, they had left Germany for Brazil in order to escape the increase in antisemitism and the Nazi Party so they had received dual Brazilian citizenship while living and working there. This made them lucky and it enabled them to get a Visa to travel by boat from Portugal back to Brazil where they waited for a month until they sailed to New York in October of 1940.
The Rey’s were artists and writers. My grandfather was passionate about photography and hiking, especially on Prince Edward Island. I’ve often wondered how many of those six million Jews and an additional five million people who were gay, or gypsies or disabled, or too young or too old were also artists or writers or doctors or gardeners or teachers or someone’s sister or best friend since they were all just regular people like my grandfather and the Reys who had their own gifts to contribute to the world but they were wiped out. Six million people murdered because they were Jewish.
My family is Jewish. My grandparents were Jewish yet noone in the last two or three generations has actively practiced Judaism. My father had gone to temple as a kid but when I was growing up I had never stepped foot in a temple or done anything religious. My father had been very clear that he was raising us atheist but always maintained his Jewish identity. I don’t remember my grandparents ever attending temple or doing anything “Jewish” outside of the holidays yet they always identified as Jewish. I think being Jewish is much more than a religion, it’s a culture and a language, there’s Hebrew and Yiddish and there’s also a shared history that continues to shape lives.
Last year, I had thought it would be great to find out what my DNA said about me. I was hoping for something I would never have imagined like I’m secretly a descendent of a princess from South Africa. According to those results, I am 99% European Jewish and one percent Israeli. The places that the DNA tests were referring to was Russia, Belarus and Lithuania and was the home of many Ashkenazi Jews who would eventually settle in Poland, Germany, Austria, Romania and the United States as a result of organized violence against Jews first in the form of pogroms and then the Shoah which is also known as the Holocaust. Anti-semitism and hating Jews is known as the world’s oldest hatred and unfortunately this hatred is once again on the rise.
My family is typical of many Ashkenazi Jewish families who came here in the first large waves of Jewish immigration during the 1880s through the turn of the century mostly through Russia because of Pogroms. Everyone with the exception of my paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States during that time.
What were the Pogroms?
The pogroms that began in 1881 were years of organized attacks sometimes with government and police encouragement against Jews that included raping and killing tens of thousands of Jews. The pogroms of Tsarist Russia was much like Nazi Germany with economic, religious, social and educational restrictions against Jewish citizens. Jews were being blamed for killing Jesus, in addition to the blood-libel myth that Jews killed Christian babies and baked their blood into matzah, the false rumor that Jews were somehow connected to the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II, the cause of economic difficulties and problems of the country and Russians used this as a justification to murder tens of thousands of citizens. After the craziness of the pogroms my great great grandparents had been thrilled to be given the opportunity to move to Bonn, Germany. My grandfather’s father had fought in World War I like a 100,000 other German Jews for Germany. He thought his service with the military would protect him but instead the Nazis shot him in the head and killed him. His wife, Rebecca arrived in the US two years after my grandfather. Afterwards, he became a professor at the University of Bonn. They lived a secular middle class life intertwined with Jews and Christians and they had two children, my grandfather and his sister. While they were teaching their kids to walk and talk Adolph Hitler was plotting his revenge against Jews who he blamed for the loss of WW1. The German government later proved that false. Hitler had blamed the jews for all of Germany’s economic problems and he used anti semitic propaganda to convince the German people to support his ultimate goal of the Jewish solution. His Jewish solution meant the complete eradication of Jews from all of Europe and the world where Germans could rule as a “pure” race. Hitler believed he was part of a “pure blooded master race” known as the Aryan Race that was at the top of the human “racial” hierarchy while Hitler placed Jews at the bottom and the lowest form of “humans” and classified them as “non-Germans” even with most Ashkenazi Jews having German surnames like my grandfathers. My grandfather’s family name Meyer is the equivalent of the surname Smith in the United States. It is still the third most common surname among German citizens.
Russia was not the beginning of anti-semitism and persecution of Jews which has been around at least since the Middle Ages. Initially, it had been about religion or Jews were blamed as the cause of the plague epidemic but then in the 19th centuries that was often replaced by a hatred based on erroneous race theories and the idea that the Jews were a separate race. Even Jews who had converted were still considered Jewish and different because of their blood line. Hitler blamed the Jews for losing World War I. There was a German myth at play stating that Germany did not lose the war on the battlefield, but through betrayal on the home front and Jews and Social Democrats were to be blamed. This was so far from the truth especially considering that at the start of the war there were only a half a million Jews living in Germany and 100,000 of them fought for Germany in the war is a significant number. Hitler’s “Final Solution” of the annihilation of all Jews was unique within antisemitism since it was the first time a country that was considered the pinnacle of culture and the arts and education decided as a nation to not just murder Jewish citizens in Germany but to completely obliterate them from the planet.
How does one plan for the murder of millions of people within their own country? How do you convince a population to turn against itself? You make your target population an “other”, an outsider and a repository for all of the woes and fears of a nation.
My grandfather’s story is his story alone. Yet his story is simultaneously the story of millions of Jews who did not have a voice because they were murdered too soon.
My grandfather was a very lucky man who was born on St. Patrick’s Day and he seemed to have the luck of the Irish in him when he survived not once but twice. First, he survived living in Nazi Germany and all of the hardships that it had entailed for a Jewish person all those years Hitler and the Nazi Party were in power. He survived and he escaped. My grandfather’s second round of luck was when he escaped to the United States and went on to fight in the United States Army in some of World War HIs largest and most significant battles as a heavy artillery gunman. He was one of only two hundred thousand other very lucky Jews who were allowed to enter the United States and therefore survive during that time period. Every person who survived was also very lucky, since lucky, was what made the difference between life and death.
Now my grandfather was not the type to say he was lucky or the type to tell his story or bring any attention to himself. When he wanted to convince my grandmother to marry him he didn’t just propose he offered to take her surname which was unheard of at that time. I found writing by my grandmother who described the political group that met at the YMCA as “young intellectuals” and something that she had joined because it was one of the only social or cultural activities available at the time to her. She described the time as extremely lucky since she “nabbed an eligible bachelor.”
My grandfather, Rudolph Raphael Meyer was born on March 17th 1908 in Bonn, Germany to Albert and Rebecca Meyer less than a mile from Beethoven’s family home. I don’t know much about his childhood since I never heard him talk about it or much in the past. My grandfather was the type who didn’t show a range of emotion outside of focused or angry and I think that was a big part of German culture-not showing emotions and not being very touchy feely. Many of the stories that I’ve heard about my grandfather or heard from my grandparents were stories overheard or pieced together by listening to snatches of hidden conversations among adults in other rooms when I was supposed to be sleeping. My father had told me that my grandfather had thought his family would be ok because his father had fought for the German army in WWI but he quickly realized he needed to get out after Hitler had taken power in 1933. My grandfather had been working as an insurance agent and my brother thinks it was family owned when Hitler took power. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws which I will get more into later were established and put into effect revoking my family’s citizenship and their ability to attend school, have a business, or be in public locations and then there was the Night of Broken Glass Jews were being murdered by the tens of thousands and Jews were brought to the first camp in Dachau.
After four years of Nazi rule my grandfather fled first to England and then to New York City by ship with a friend and family member Alfred Gartner. His sister Ilse and her mother would arrive the following year. Alfred was married to Rudy and Ilse’s first cousin. My brother also found paperwork from the SS of the murder of another cousin from that family group. I didn’t know anything about Alfred before I had started looking into this and my brother found paperwork and records that looks like Alfred had left Germany the year before my grandfather and had established residency with his family in the US and then returned to get my grandfather and travel back with him from Germany and then Liverpool, England. I didn’t know about Alfred until recently and I’m going to try and find out more about him and his experience in the future. Once my grandfather and Alfred arrived in New York they stayed with Alfred’s family on the upper east side of Manhattan until my grandfather had moved into a YMCA. He had taken a ship to England and I am not sure if they traveled anywhere else before traveling to the United States. I am not positive but I think Alfred had returned a third time for Ilse but regardless of how she arrived here with her mother and future husband they all stayed with Alfred’s family on the upper east side. They also had other family who lived there who fought in WW II.
My grandfather and Alfred Gartner took the SS Samaria ship from Liverpool, England to New York City. His sister Ilse would take the same transatlantic ship the following year but she would meet her future husband on that trip. I find it amazing and incredibly lucky that they were among the only two hundred thousand Jews who had been allowed to enter the United States under the American immigration quota system that severely limited non-Nordic populations. It was common for men to move first to try and establish housing and work before bringing over their family and while Jews had been the victims of pogroms for decades no-one could have predicted the horrors of the holocaust.
In 1940 the ship Samaria that my grandfather had sailed the transatlantic on just a couple of years prior was now shuttling out British and Jewish children to family, friends and profitable schemes in the US, Canada and South America saving the lives of 14,000 British children and several hundred Jewish children. I have friends who are the grandchildren of survivors who thanks to DNA testing have found family members who had been given up for adoption to save their lives in the United States. DNA testing is really a game changer in furthering our understanding of the past. For example a friend of mine recently got his DNA results back and learned that he isn’t Italian at all and over thirty percent Jewish so it makes you wonder if his grandparents had been one of those children and what happened to those children and their legacies.
My grandparents had met that year in the basement of a YMCA where political discussions were being held. My grandmother had been the only woman in that group and she was also a college graduate and working as a second grade teacher. My grandfather was still a German citizen at the time and he told my grandmother that if she would agree to marry him he would even take her name which was pretty significant at that time. My grandmother, Ruth Cohn had been living with her parents, her sister Erna and her husband Manny as well as a German Jewish refugee they had taken in. My grandmother’s family were Polish/Russian Jews that had settled in Poland and then in Amsterdam New York in a factory town. My grandmother’s family had been very poor and she had worked in a factory to help support her family until her uncle and aunt became very wealthy and paid for her to attend college. My grandmother’s uncle had dropped out of school at 14 and made his way from a vaudeville performer to creating and running Columbia Pictures with his brother for over forty years.this had been a source of deep contention between my grandmother and her sister Erna for decades since only my grandmother had that opportunity. My grandparents had stayed close with this part of the family right up until my grandfather’s death and while her uncle had passed other family had paid for his funeral and hospital expenses when he had been very ill the last several years of his life. My great uncle was a product of his time and not the best kind of person. He had been known as a Harvey Weinstein. When I was a kid my family would pile into the car on Staten Island and drive to Long Island on Sundays to have dinner with my grandparents. I remember a dinner time family story was included in the Godfather two film of the horses head being cut off. While I know the director of the film claims that scene was based in fiction, it wasn’t. It had been my great uncles favorite horse and someone in the mafia had decapitated it and placed it in his bed over an issue with Frank Sinatra and someone they were both sleeping with a contract.
In December of 1943 my grandfather arrived in Casablanca, NorthernAfrica with 14,000 other men on an overcrowded Liberty ship as a part of the 88th Infantry Division. This would eventually become known as the “Blue Devils.” in Italy. My father was born a the end of April while my grandfather and the Allies went on to attack enemy lines at Mount Diamano and the Austene Valley.