Part 2 : A Tale of Two Escapes: Curious George, the Nazis and My Grandfather

My grandfather, Rudy Meyer
BLUE DEVILS
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—
To Berlin—
That’s the way they will go
And will show 
All the Nation
Their famous reputation.
Be prepared,
You never heard
A record
Of this sort.
Minturne
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
The 88th
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

PFC 32944109

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?

My grandparents

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. 

Pages from my grandmother’s journals

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.

Looking to learn more about the Holocaust?

You can find middle school Holocaust reading suggestions here: https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/books/reading-lists/holocaust-books-for-middle-grade-readers

You can find high school reading suggestions here: https://www.jewishbookcouncil.org/books/reading-lists/holocaust-books-for-young-adults

Teaching About Thanksgiving

My daughter learning about Native American populations in Jamestown, VA

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.

Exploring a local trail where the Lenape once lived.

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?

My daughter’s Native American drawing at the Montclair Art Museum

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 ?

Learning about American History in Williamsburg, VA

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.

Exploring the Passaic River where the Lenape once lived alongside of

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.

The Smithsonian has shared great resources that you can find here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2020/11/14/five-ideas-teach-thanksgiving/

Here is a link for highly rated films to watch on Native Americans. https://tribalcollegejournal.org/five-native-films-and-shows-you-should-be-streaming-in-2020/

Looking for a few great books as well? Here is a great list by Mighty Girl: https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=10365 and by First Nations https://www.firstnations.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Revised_Book_Insert_Web_Version_March_2018.pdf

Even our dog loves this book.
My daughter learning about Native culture on a family trip to Jamestown, Virginia

You can learn more about Jamestown here: https://amp.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article24463288.html

Happy Thanksgiving to you and all those you love!

FREE National Park Passes for ALL FOURTH and FIFTH GRADERS

White Mountain National Forest

Do you know about the incredible free national park program available to all fourth graders and their families for the entire school year?

Admiring the beauty of the Pacifiic Ocean in a state park

For the first time the national park program has extended their program to include all fifth graders and their families. You can get your free pass and find out more by clicking the link below:

https://www.nps.gov/kids/fifthgrade.htm

Photo by Pixabay

Outdoor Education is for Everyone

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?

Exploring a field in New Jersey

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.

Enjoying a local hike in Northern NJ

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.

You can learn more about Finland’s forest schools here https://healingforest.org/tag/forest-schools-of-finland/

My son found a fossil in Long Beach, CA

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.

Looking beyond

If a peer reviewed study by the NIH showing the cognitive benefits floats your boat in order to get onboard with with getting outside then here is one for you. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6616085/

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.

Finding salamanders on a rainy day

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.

Watching for hawks

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.

Stroll in a local park before math
Every unturned rock is an opportunity 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.

New York City class outside Photo from NY mag
Taking a lunch break at Paterson Falls to learn a little history with our rice dishes.

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?

The woods aren’t just for kids. This is me in my happy place where I can have space to think. This is minutes from a major urban area. There are pockets of wilderness everywhere.

A Tale of Two Escapes: Curious George, the Nazis and My Grandfather

A Tale of Two Escapes: Curious George, the Nazis and My Grandfather

https://homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2020/10/26/a-tale-of-two-escapes-curious-george-the-nazis-and-my-grandfather/
— Read on homeschooleducationalconsultanttutor.services/2020/10/26/a-tale-of-two-escapes-curious-george-the-nazis-and-my-grandfather/

A Tale of Two Escapes: Curious George, the Nazis and My Grandfather

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.

Poem titled, Blue Devils by Rudy Meyer aka grandparents

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.

Nazi records of the murder of a cousin

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.

A letter from father to son direct from the front lines of WW II

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.

My son’s third birthday in Waterville Valley to see the Rey Center

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. 

Ny daughter is ready for a nature walk at the Rey Center

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.

My grandfather and I in the park having quality time.
My grandfather and I getting a little quality time

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.

To Be Continued… next week!

Jump for Joy! Recess and Free Play are as important as Literacy (that goes for tweens and teens too)!

What do our kids need to ensure a great education and to optimize health and learning? What is often forgotten in that push to improve cognition and learning?

Recess!

Did you know that recess and free unstructured play is not just GOOD for developing brains, it’s ESSENTIAL?

Did you know that the NEED for free unstructured time is a crucial element of developing physical and health benefits and provides significant emotional and academic benefits such as learning to be independent, solve conflicts and initiate play or activities and generate new ideas?

Imagine adults weren’t allowed to take breaks? No more lunches laughing with friends or early morning runs in the dark before the world is awake or all of your actives or all of your daily choices were pre-determined for you? I’d hate to see what I’d end up doing.

It is so tempting when creating a schedule for your family to fill it with lots of structured activities and learning experiences because you are awesome and love your kids so much. You want them to have diverse experiences and abilities. However, our kids need autonomy and independence that can only come from learning to find one’s way without us.

Winter is quickly approaching and with it all of the challenges of the elements. Winter is another fabulous opportunity for our kids (teens too) to have new experiences, create new synapses and neural connections within the brain while getting their heart rates up and improving their cardiovascular fitness. Each season has its own discoveries to be found. Proper clothing designed for the elements is often the biggest factor to enjoying the outdoors in cooler temperatures. Get your kids a pair of great boots and then send them outside WITHOUT a plan.

You can check out what Harvard University has to say about the proven benefits of free play on brain development and cognition here:

https://hms.harvard.edu/magazine/play/flights-fancy

Where is your Tar Beach? Where is your mental break?

Where does your imagination fly to escape?

Where is your child’s magical place?

Everyone, children included need a place to call their own and to mentally recharge especially now during a pandemic.

My son admiring Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach quilt at the Montclair Art Museum

Everyone needs a place to mentally escape even if it is just for a few minutes at a time. Lately, my place to mentally unwind has been watching the sunrise by the George Washington Bridge. NYC artist and author Faith Ringgold’s childhood escape was also the GWB. In her beautifully crafted first children’s book Tar Beach, African American Cassie Lightfoot dreams she can fly on top of her black tar roof as it transforms into a beach and she claims the George Washington Bridge next to her Harlem home as her own. This is the story of Cassie’s hopes and dreams as well as her way of overcoming obstacles that all children can relate to.

You can see the Guggenheim’s photos of the quilt here: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/3719

Faith Ringgold is an African American artist, NYC teacher, and civil rights advocate who first created her story using a quilt to tell her story the same way that African American slaves had used quilts as guides to freedom during the Civil War. Her great, great, great grandmother had been a slave on a southern plantation who made quilts for plantation owners. Ringgold was born in 1930 and grew up in Harlem dreaming about claiming the George Washington Bridge as her own. Her father wasn’t allowed to join the union to work on the bridge because he was African American. Tar Beach was Ringgold’s childhood escape. Great children’s books are a bridge into our kid’s worlds to help them navigate this difficult time.

You can see an interview with Faith Ringgold here: https://youtu.be/794M-mcOJY4

What helps you to get out of your own head?

Being a teen has always been a complicated, highly intense time. Throw a pandemic into the mix and it only amplifies the intensity and the reason why coming-of-age stories are a perfect anecdote.

Growing up can be challenging, add a pandemic to the mix and you have a true challenge. Our kids are facing uncertain times and coming of age stories teach kids how to face difficult times and persevere. This genre is like gifting your kid a best friend who they can continuously circle back to reread. Coming of age novels are a great anecdote to those deep growing pains as your teen transitions towards adulthood on top of managing the day to day life in a pandemic.

A dog and a coming of age story are soothing for the teen soul

The beauty of coming of age novels is that they maintain their relevance and importance regardless of the time period. I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorites beginning with the book my daughter is currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. What books would you add to the list?

My daughter reading a book that spoke to me at her age.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a semi-autobiographical novel set during the first two decade of the 20th century in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The story follows the life of Francie Nolan and her Irish immigrant family as they navigate extreme poverty, alcoholism, death, relationships and where she learns to be strong as nails like her mother.

Graphic novel that weaves three stories into one.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novel that weaves three separate tales into one. It begins with the legendary folk tale of Sun Wukong (The Monkey King) from a classic Chinese folktale. The second tale is the story of a first generation immigrant family who moves from Chinatown to an all white suburb and the protagonist has trouble fitting in. It is here that the first two stories come into play creating a ethnic coming of age story that also looks at cultural and ethnic identity.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

“I know what I want, I have a goal, an opinion, I have a religion and love. Let me be myself, and then I am satisfied. I know that I’m a woman, a woman with inward strength and courage” Anne Frank

Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is her journal that was found by her father after she died in a concentration camp at age fifteen in Nazi Germany. Her journal covers the period of her family’s hiding in an attic with another family for two years beginning when Anne was 13.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall was first published in 1959. It tells the story of a Barbadian immigrant family in Brooklyn.

Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs tells the story of a Mexican teen desperate to support his family as they struggle in abject poverty after his father’s death. He decides to travel to the United States to work like his father had from Mexico.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of Frannie and how she navigates race, religion, disability, and friendship in this story set in an urban all black school with a new white boy in the early 1970s.

Fifteen by Beverly Cleary is Cleary’s 1950s story about falling in love for the first time.

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumes is the story of a young girl who immigrates from Iran to California. The story is narrated through her very funny eyes.

Go Tell It To the Mountain by James Baldwin is based off of an old Black spiritual. It tells the story of the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes set in 1935 Harlem. The story uses flashbacks to include the characters grandparent’s experiences as slaves in the south.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is a story that celebrates the healing and help a group of six middle schoolers are able to provide one another during a weekly meeting without adults through the act of sharing their stories.

Locomtion & Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of 12 year old Lonnie who is in foster care apart from his younger sister. He decides his job is “rememberer” and sets about to chronicle their lives.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding tells the story of a group of British prep school boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island and they attempt to govern themselves. Conch tales are in abundance.

Night by Elie Wiesel is Wiesel’s account of his time with his father in Nazi Germany concentrations camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper was gifted to my daughter by her friend who has cerebral palsy. This is the story of Melody who has CP and is treated as less than intelligent or equal by her classmates, teachers and doctors but she decides to make sure they understand she isn’t defined or cognitively limited by cerebral palsy.

Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang is a historical memoir about the cultural revolution of China in the late 1960s. In 1966, 12 year old Ji-li is a popular kid in Communist China until the revolution begins. People she had thought were friends turned on her family and her father was imprisoned.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead is set in the mid 1980s in Sag Harbor, an exclusive and very wealthy area of the Hamptons. The story’s main character Benji is an African American teen spending the summer within a black enclave of a predominately white and close knit town and reaches issues of race, class, and commercialism.

Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai tells the story of 12 year old Fadi’s family illegally fleeing Taliban controlled Afghanistan on an underground transport for the United States in the summer of 2001.

The Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac tells the story of Navajo code breakers who played a critical role in the success of the US military during WW2. The story is told through a 16 year old Navajo boy’s journey as a code talker.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas tells the story of a young girl who witnesses her best friend get shot by the police. Her best friend was an unarmed kid.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins tells the story of sixteen year old Katniss as she battles twelve other children from various regions to the death on live TV.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton tells the story of Ponyboy and his brothers about their lives as greasers versus rival gangs that are based on socio-economic status.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Paul Curtis is the fictionalized story of an African American family that travels from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham to bring the oldest brother to stay with their grandmother after he gets in a little trouble.

When I Was Puerto Rican is Esmeralda Santiago’s memoir of growing up between rural Puerto Rico and Brooklyn, NY.

Does your child fight you like Muhammad Ali about sitting down to read, write or work on math? Allowing for a small physical and mental shift in setting often creates significant change.

Reading a great find from a little library.

You can learn anywhere. Physical space creates a mood and having physical control over one’s space is as important as self regulation when it comes to learning. Let your kid decide where to read or write even if it’s the floor or the driveway. Create an atmosphere of “I can learn anywhere.” Why not read on a bench or the lawn? Kids learn best when stress levels are low and when they’re comfortable. Allowing your child to find the spaces that work best for them will also help to develop the ability to self regulate.

My daughter studying Korean on the dining room floor.

Homeschooling is more than an educational philosophy. It’s a lifestyle. My kids have desks yet most of their “work” happens elsewhere. Let go of the need to limit learning to one area of the house. When there is space to learn, children will fill it. My job as a parent is both educational facilitator and to step back and get out of the way so they can take the reins of their education.

Reading about the brain during breakfast. Science never waits.

My daughter is obsessed with K-Pop like a gazillion other American tweens. I wanted her to study another language and she chose Korean to better understand her idols while I get to check off the foreign language box for the year in my head. Since we are in a small house with kids, a dog, working parents and a pandemic we need to be flexible about shared spaces. As you can see in the photo, she is sitting on the floor of the dining room while studying Korean so that she can be physically near others while studying. Shared learning spaces and shared self directed learning isn’t in abundance right now due to the virus. However, kids are finding ways to address it if we let them. My daughter decided to stay in close proximity to her brother while he read a book. Connection has been lost due to COVID for so many of our kids and with the absence of coops and playdates, sports teams, libraries, schools and other connections knowing someone else is close by can be a great source of comfort. Another favorite reading place is an old tent I had gotten as a wedding gift from REI 15 years ago. It has withstood snow and rain and my kids reading and playing for hours in their own little bubble. They have pillows, secret envelopes and notes and books inside. Math for my son is often at the kitchen table while my daughter prefers working on math at her desk in her room.

My kids often read for hours in a tent in the yard. Best REI purchase over a decade ago.

Reading can happen on a park bench.

Reading a book in a favorite local park.

I don’t set boundaries on reading therefore I encourage my kids to always carry a book just in case they have a spare second. It’s like having a best friend close by so independent reading can happen on the sidewalk at random places or on a park bench with a lot less resistance than if I had decided my kids had to sit in spot x for 30 minutes.

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