Over the past month – leading up to Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, today – Yonit Rothchild, a writer working with The Fellowship in Israel, has been sharing the moving story of her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. Today, Yonit shares the final segment in this moving series.
My grandfather, Max Grinblatt of blessed memory, had two requests in life: One was to watch over our children; the other was to tell the story of the Holocaust so that the world would never forget. This is his story.
Part V: Life and Legacy
My grandfather lived the American Dream. He and my grandmother worked hard, accepted help from no one, and were able to save enough money to buy a business, a car, a home, and ultimately to live a comfortable, if modest, lifestyle. They were more than grateful for the opportunities that America afforded them. The only thing, however, was that the American Dream wasn’t my grandfather’s ultimate dream.
Although he loved America and had extreme appreciation for his new country, his deep desire can be summed up in the words of the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah (The Hope), “To be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Dreaming of Zion
Even as a young boy in Poland, my grandfather dreamt of Zion. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a Russian-Jewish leader in early Zionism, began to tour Poland and other European countries in the 1930s. He warned the Jews of impending disaster (although even he had no idea just how devastating the Holocaust would be) and encouraged immigration to what was then called Palestine, modern-day Israel, which at the time was controlled by the British and composed of both Jews and Arabs.
My grandfather vividly remembered meeting Jabotinsky personally. It was a highlight of his life. He was completely convinced about Jabotinsky’s call to work toward Jewish sovereignty in our ancient homeland. He enrolled in Jabotinsky’s youth movement, but had to hide it from his parents, who were initially against Jabotinsky’s philosophy. Even before the Holocaust proved Jabotinsky’s ideals to be correct, my grandfather was already an ardent Zionist who understood that the Jewish people have only one true home.
Yet, as fate would have it, my grandfather never got to live in the Jewish state. He rejoiced in its founding from afar and was a staunch supporter of Israel for his entire life. The first time my grandfather came to Israel was in 1970, just three years after the reunification of Jerusalem. I can only imagine his joy when he visited Israel and saw for himself the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old dream, and in a way, his own personal one.
A Passing and a Discovery
My grandfather passed away peacefully in 2006, just short of his 90th birthday. In 2009, my mother received a most unusual gift on her own birthday. A few months earlier, she had contacted the registry at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and applied for information about her father, mother, and six other relatives who were murdered by the Nazis. Out of all those people, it was her father’s information that showed up on her birthday, just days before his third yahrzeit (anniversary of death).
My mother shared the finding with me and my four siblings. We were all amazed at how many documents were discovered and delivered. It was emotional and at the same time surreal to see the records, documents, and personal signatures that testify to the horrors that our beloved family members endured.
There was one particular document that stood out from all of the rest. The Allied Expeditionary Force Registration Form was faded and pale like all of the others. The form, which was filled out when my grandfather entered the Föhrenwald Displaced Persons Camp in Germany, contains nothing other than simple facts and information: name, birthday, gender, etc. However, the banality of the document betrays the plethora of emotions that it evoked from us.
The upper right corner of the document asks for the applicant’s nationality. My grandfather could have written Polish, as he was born and spent his entire childhood to adulthood in Poland. Instead, he chose to write STATELESS. Beneath that one simple, cold word, lies the tragic series of events that left millions, like my grandfather, alone, lost, and homeless in every sense of the word.
Further down the document and slightly to the left, the form asks for the applicant’s “desired destination.” For that, my grandfather had one clear answer: PALESTINE. Israel was and is the only possible answer to the 2,000-year persecution of the Jewish people. While my grandfather never lived in Israel, his final resting place is in Israel. He never gave up on his Zionist dream.
But that isn’t the end of my grandfather’s story. Today, two of his grandchildren and almost all of his great-grandchildren have made their homes in the Jewish state. All of us are part of a story bigger than ourselves. My grandfather continued the story of his ancestors, and his story is continued through his descendants. In 2011, I gave birth in Jerusalem to my only blond child – the same blond hair that once saved my grandfather’s life.
My son is named after my grandfather, and while I hope he and all my children continue his legacy, I am also grateful that they live in a very different world. We live in a world where a Jewish state exists and where we are privileged to daily live the dream that my grandfather could only imagine. We have an army to protect us and a strong nation that surrounds us.
We will never forget who we are or where we have come from, and we will continue to build a better future – one where the Holocaust, which defined and described my grandfather’s life, will happen NEVER AGAIN.